Being minister to three rural congregations, I have to spread myself about a bit at special times in the church calendar such as Christmas and Easter, so this week saw me leading the regular Sunday worship at Myrtleford, then an early Christmas Eve service on Thurs at Yackandandah, followed by a 'midnight' candlelight Christmas Eve service at Myrtleford and Christmas morning at Beechworth.
Being my first Christmas in this ministry patch (and also my first Christmas as a minister!) I took as much advice as I could from the locals about what is usually done, who attends these services, and what they would like, (as well as gleaning ideas from various resources and colleagues with more experience).
For the Christmas Eve services, I opted for a slightly modified version of the traditional Lessons and Carols format, allowing the readings and the carols to tell the story in their own way, rather than preaching a sermon, and also allowing the opportunity for members of the congregation to light a candle of remembrance for loved ones absent this Christmas.
It has struck me that Christmas is often also a time of sadness for people who are struggling with relationship breakdowns or who have experienced the death of a loved one in the past year or so. Some congregations hold 'Blue Christmas' services, which are quiet, reflective services, providing space for the grief and less than 'bubbly' feelings to be acknowledged and expressed. After talking to a few people, I decided not to offer this as a separate service in my congregations, but to incorporate a time of reflection and remembrance in the evening services, and this seemed to work well.
Another pastoral practice I commenced, (after a suggestion from a colleague) was to send Christmas cards to the families of folks whose funerals I have conducted during the year. I printed a special message which I pasted inside the card, saying:
The first Christmas after
the death of someone you love
can be difficult.
My thoughts and prayers
are with you and your family, that God’s peace
may be with you this Christmas.
I received a few responses from these, which indicated that people appreciated the fact that I had been in touch.
Another pastoral thing I trialled (and I think I will make a regular thing) was the 'open house' I mentioned in a previous blog entry. People have commented how much they enjoyed the opportunity to drop in, and a number of folk who didn't get there on the day have said that they would have loved to come, but had other commitments. I'm thinking of making this a bi-annual event, as I really do enjoy having folks around, and think that offering hospitality is an important part of my pastoral ministry.
So now, Christmas is over, there was much joy and celebration, tempered with some sadness - I still miss Dad, and I think it will take some time before I get used to the fact that not only is he not around, but unless Mum comes to me down here, I also won't see her on Christmas Day (but I'm looking forward to seeing her tomorrow when I head to Sydney for holidays :-).
Jesus was well and truly welcomed in this corner of the world, and may it be so everywhere.