Better Gatherings for Christmas


Christmas today is inherently filled with inevitable contradictions. And it not because there are non-Christian religions in Australia. As it exists in contemporary Western society, Christmas is not one, but at least three different festivals, each going on at the same time. They are pulling in different directions yet are not disconnected.

Better Gatherings for Christmas

Christmas_Child_Singing
Christmas today is inherently filled with inevitable contradictions. And it not because there are non-Christian religions in Australia. As it exists in contemporary Western society, Christmas is not one, but at least three different festivals, each going on at the same time. They are pulling in different directions yet are not disconnected.

There is the ‘commercial Christmas' which starts earlier and earlier each year. Enough said.

Secondly there is the ‘community affirmation Christmas' which for almost every one of us, whatever our religion or none, is a powerful time of reconnection with family and other significant relationships. It is a sentimental festival which above all evokes childhood memories. This is the Christmas of Carols by Candlelight, work Christmas parties and "Christmas dinner for all."

And thirdly there is what the Book of Common Prayer calls ‘The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-day of Christ, commonly called Christmas-Day.' For us believers this is the Christmas we struggle to keep primary, as much for ourselves as for the society we dwell in.

What implications does this have for our special Christmas services, especially those we want to use as evangelistic occasions. Rather than complain we must should simply accept there are conflicting pressures in making the most of the opportunities that Christmas services provide every year.

Those coming are wanting something familiar. They have an expectation that Christmas will be, well, Christmas. (Even those Christmas carols which have driven us mad in the department stores still need to be brought out and dusted down and sung with gusto.)

On the other hand, many of those coming have a very poor grasp of the Christian faith. They come very much as outsiders who need to be well received as guests, and helped to take part without being talked down to.

This means that our services have to be done very well, be sufficiently familiar to help engage people's expectations and yet accessible for those whose knowledge is not what we would expect from our normal attendees.

We hope that the resources on this website will make life a lot easier for those preparing Christmas services. There are five ways we think it can help.

  1. 1. There are a number of new resources on the site including a brand-new Nine Lessons and Carols that better reflects the biblical theological shape of the gospel story rather enact one just directly imported from Oxford.

    Nine Lessons and Carols


    Christmas Family Service


    Christmas Family Service (with Communion)

    Christmas Day Communion (Contemporary)
  1. 2. The site will enable you to generate carol booklets quite easily.

    Carols Songsheet
  2. 3. There are a number of new versions of hymns with simplified lyrics. Perhaps it is time for the kids no longer to sing "Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb"! There are simplified carols for:

    Angels From The Realms of Glory
    It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
    O Come, All You Faithful
    Once In Royal David's City
    Silent Night
    The First Nowell
    While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

    You can select these versions when you build a service using ServiceBuilder - look for the word "(simplified)" after the title in the pick-list.
  3. 4. By enabling you to produce services directly without flipping around, you can make traditional services if you are holding them more visitor-friendly.

    Christmas Day Communion (AAPB 2nd Order for Christmas Day)


    Christmas Day Communion (AAPB 2nd Order for Christmas Day)


    Christmas Day Communion (BCP for Christmas Day)

    Christmas Family Service

    Christmas Family Service (with Communion)

    Christmas Day Communion (Contemporary)

  4. 5. Finally, here are some tips on running a Carols service.


    5 tips on running a Community Carols in the Park (supplied by Matt Yeo)

    Council. Get your paperwork right with the local council. Go out of your way to be helpful. Leave the place spotless.

    Advertising. Once you have run it for a few years, people will know its coming. But even so, you still need to work hard at advertising. A banner at the church and at the park, postcards delivered to the surrounding neighbourhood, any use of local media you can (HOPE FM radio is very helpful), and a free sausage sizzle prior to the Carols starting.

    Community Band. You will need to use your own sings (and some musicians), but for the bulk of the carols, you should ask a local community band to come in and play. They are often a bit younger, and perhaps not quite as professional, but they will still do a good job. This will also bring along many friends and relatives.

    Partner. Can you partner with the next door anglican church? This gives the service a bit more firepower and manpower, and will be helpful for both parishes to advertise.

    Maintain control. There will always be an abundance of carols services around your area, with most run by community groups, not churches. This means that the gospel is not heard at all. It is a good idea to invite other community groups and even other churches to take part in the event, but do it in such a way that other groups cannot hijack the agenda and take it away from the gospel.


    5 key tips for "carol services" (whether in church, on the lawn, or off-site)

    A. Keep the carols short. Don't sing all 7 verses of "O Come all ye faithful" - for most carols, you should aim for only three verses

    B. Choose modern versions of carols... but make sure that the versions are still familiar enough for people who have come expecting the "old faithfuls"

    C. Use the sequence of the carols to tell the Christmas story, and use the segues between carols to make sure that Jesus remains centre-stage. But don't over-do the song introductions - you have got 1-2 mins max before people start to feel like they are getting mini-sermon.

    D.Get the neighbours on-side! Do a letterbox drop in the week prior to invite them to the event ... and at the same time inform them about any increased noise levels and/or impacts on local traffic.

    E. Develop a Risk Managament plan. Have you thought about a first aid station, minimising trip hazards, a wet weather plan (esp. electrical equipment in wet weather), traffic control, food safety , lost children.... Use this very helpful checklist.


Robert Forsyth





 

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