No Christmas For You!

Something bizarre happened at my home church down in Tacoma, WA. Apparently other churches have done this before, but this has never crossed my mind: No Christmas! That’s right folks, you walk by our church Christmas morning and you will just see a Please see the chuch down the street, God is there this morning on the readerboard.

Welcome to our church!
For the record, I am Presbyterian, not Baptist. I made this sign at the Church Sign Generator

How is this possible? How is this justifiable? Why did that even come up as a possibility? The “rationale” (if you can call it that) is that people don’t come to Sunday worship services if they happen to be the same date as Christmas (which this year it does), but are willing to come to Christmas Eve services. The way it usually works is the final Sunday of advent is celebrated the weekend before Christmas and then there is a Christmas Eve service on… well the eve of Christmas. So I am to believe no one will show up? That is just ridiculous. I am appalled that the Pastor could suggest this course and that the session would go along with it.

I have posted my letter to our session members and pastor below the cut (or you can view the letter in PDF format). Has anyone else had a similar experience? Does your church do this? How does the congregation handle this? Any other thoughts? I apprecaite your input!

Matt Jones
xxxx Shaughnessy St
Vancouver, BC V6P 3Y2
Canada

November 28, 2005

Skyline Presbyterian Church
6301 Westgate Blvd.
Tacoma, WA 98406

Dear Session members and Pastor Hogue,

I know this letter of concern will not have the same impact as one coming from an active member, but I am a member nonetheless and feel it is still my duty to speak up when I see something of concern in my church. The church not being open on Christmas day has me deeply concerned both as a church member and as a Christian in general. I am confused by the lack of and weak rationale in this choice. From what I have heard (and this is second hand so I would gladly hear something to the contrary from one of you), the main rationale for not having service on Christmas Sunday was either the worry that no one will come to church or that it could cause strife in families trying to decide whether to go to church or stay home with family in the morning. I feel these reasons are not appropriate or sufficient considering the role of the church. It is not the role of the church to decide for its members (or visitors) if they should or should not come to church. Assuming people will not come suggests that you do not feel the church body can make correct decisions which then implies that 1) the church can make that decision for them and 2) the church has failed in its mission to build up the body of Christ and to make Godly decisions.

For the following reasons (along with those mentioned above), I feel that there is no rationale that warrants the closure of the Church on Christmas Sunday:

  • It is Sunday. “God has appointed one day in seven to be kept holy, set aside as the occasion for the people of God to worship corporately” (W-3.2001). It is understood that there is an 11:00pm Christmas Eve service, but that service does not constitute a normal worship service.

  • It is Christmas. “The Church thus has come to observe the following days and seasons… Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Christ…” (W-3.2002). I believe it is inappropriate to deny the celebration of the day of Christ’s birth.

  • Christmas Sunday is the culmination of Advent. “The Church thus has come to observe the following days and seasons… Advent, a season to recollect the hope of the coming of Christ, and to look forward to the Lord’s coming again…” (W-3.2002). I believe it is inappropriate to have a season of Advent if Christmas Sunday, with its Christ candle, does not happen.

  • The Church is missional. Christmas and Easter are two of the busiest days in the Church. Many people who would not normally come to a church service (either non-believers or “nominal” Christians) do come on these two days. It should be recognized that quality discipling and witness should be evident on both of those days so as to encourage non-believers to place faith in Christ and to encourage those that claim faith to grow towards a more mature belief I believe it is inappropriate to ignore the need for Christ’s Word to be heard in the local community, especially at Christmas (it would be unthinkable to be closed on Easter morning, yes?) After all, we are to respond to “the growing need to witness and proclaim the love, truth, and grace of Jesus Christ” (SPC website).

  • It is also understood that the Session has the right and power to democratically choose when the Church meets (W-1.4004), but that in no way invalidates my reasons above. Let people decide whether or not to come to Church, that is between them and God, the Church has no place deciding that for them. Regardless of how many people want to come to Church that morning, it should be open. This is not meant to suggest that there needs to be anything elaborate. Reading from the Gospels, prayer, a short message, and some worship songs would surely suffice. Granted, Session had the power to make this decision but with something this significant I believe it would have been prudent for the church body at large to be included in this decision. I hope you do not take this letter as being one of hostility, but merely me voicing my concerns about what this will do to the Church and its community. I pray that you would please take this to heart.

    God Bless,

    Matt Jones
    matt@mattjonesblog.com
    November 28th, 2005

    Luckilly we still have Festivus. I guess this was part of my Airing of Grievances. I am now ready for the Feats of Strength. Festivus, truly, a holiday for the rest of us.

    -Matt Jones
    ????????? 'To Life!'

    [UPDATE 12.6.05 8:00pm]: Apparently a special session meeting was called to discuss the issue and the decision was REVERSED! It will be very interesting to talk to some elders as well as the pastor to find out more about this process.


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    1. December 1st, 2005 at 15:29 | #1

      I agree, Matt. I would have considered it unthinkable for a Christian church to keep its doors closed on a Sunday. My daughter, now attending school in another city, is returning home for Christmas. My wife and I are looking forward to worshipping with her and sharing Communion with her and as many of our congregationwho show up on the day of our Lord’s birth. If our church were to make the same decision as yours, we’d be very unhappy. (“Heart-broken” is not putting it too strongly.) Are there any families at your church in a similar position?

      It sucks–big time.

    2. December 1st, 2005 at 21:46 | #2

      Yeah, something like that never crossed my mind, it just blew me away! I told my parents we should get the keys and have an “underground” service there. I have a feeling there will be many members in the congregation that will be upset. That was another thing with all this, just just informed the congregation this past Monday in the monthly mailing/calendar! How inappropriate is that?

    3. Jae
      December 1st, 2005 at 23:07 | #3

      This makes perfect sense. Jesus doesn’t want us to take time away from adding mp3′s to our new ipods, or interrupt our precious dysfunctional family holiday time to worship Him! Afterall, its very important to uncle “jimbob” that we sit and watch TV with him once a year.

      Seriously tho’, this is just one rather obvious instance of how God really comes last for most of us fat and happy christians. I say that because Christmas is not a “holier” day than any other. And this kind of stuff is really a symptom of a much bigger problem – not reckoning the lorship of Christ over every day and every one, and forsaking corporate opportunities such as Christmas to soak that in a little more. It’s undeniably pagan to turn a day of rememberance into a day of indulgence… and I really think Christmas has become an exercise in paganism for many believers.

      And yeah bro, I’m going to guess that there is a much deeper problem at your church than the occasional lapse in sunday services. This kind of behavior is rooted in some obviously distorted views of being and doing “church”, and I think you made that clear to the leaders with many crucial points in your letter. I just hope that for the congregation’s sake, that your pastors/elders haven’t displaced the gospel from the center of body life. Because once you lose that, all you’re left with is a Jesus that serves a “church”, rather than a church that serves the Christ.

      -j

    4. December 2nd, 2005 at 00:36 | #4

      I hope my statement that “the church has failed in its mission to build up the body of Christ and to make Godly decisions” will really wake them up a bit.

      Thank you Jae for your wise words. This is something that my parents are really having to deal with (as I am in Canada I haven’t really had to). Is it worth leaving the church? Well even with the underlying problems, I would say no (although they are probably justified in leave just because they live to freaking far away now). Problems in the church do not get fixed by leaving. The problem is that people (whether they leave or stay) don’t speak up and do anything. That is the sense that I got from hearing about how Session handled this, they just went along with it. That stance is deadly.

      Your comments on materialism and focus of Jesus serving the “church” as opposed to the other way around are particularily important right now and need to be taken to heart. Thank you for that.

      I am quite anxious to hear how session deals with my letter as well as how the congregation reacts to the news.

      Lisa of Oddities and Treasures also points to an article by Paul Proctor discussing this same issue that is also worth the read. Thanks for the link Lisa.

    5. December 2nd, 2005 at 05:03 | #5

      I’m surprised they’re not having an evening service instead. It’s not as bad, though, as a church I went to as a kid – they had a midnight new year’s service – but it went late and we missed new years. It sucked.

    6. December 2nd, 2005 at 06:21 | #6

      I’ve seen a few other Christian bloggers express the same concern over churches closing for Christmas.

      Closing for Christmas is stupid!

      One of my biggest concerns is what will happen to the “two-timers” (those who only attend church only on Christmas and Easter)? Christmas is one of those opportunities to invite the unchurched to a worship service and chances are good they’ll take you up on the offer. It is really bothersome that some churches will be closed. It is definitely missional as you say, and it blows my mind that some will be closed for Christmas. I only hope I don’t hear about churches closing for Easter in the spring!

      Your letter is very well thought out and I pray your Church and pastor will consider it’s merit.

      I am excited that Christmas is on Sunday this year! To worship the Lord corporately on such a day! Woohooo!

      If churches are remaining closed because members will be out of town, or occupied with other things that morning…it’s not the so much that the local church has the problem…it’s the Body.

    7. December 2nd, 2005 at 11:39 | #7

      Matt,

      Like the way you speak up on issues that show that you care for the Church. The next thing is to deal with or possibly clarifying any adverse reactions that may arise. Closing for Christmas may seem a very normal thing to do in other organizations. I know many places of leisure like some National Zoos are open all year (EXCEPT Christmas). For a Church to do so, I think you are right to leave the choice for the congregation members. I have heard of people who never goes to Church except on Christmas Day!

      conrade

    8. December 2nd, 2005 at 12:42 | #8

      Susan, “two timers” are a big concern for me. I think that two timers have a lot of growing to do, but they can’t do that if there is no church. I hope that my “church is missional” statements will drive that home. I almost put in my letter a more sarcastic version of “it would be unthinkable to be closed on Easter morning, yes?”, something like “Hey, Easter is on Sunday this year, we had better shut down!” But I thought better of it. :)

      I am deeply concerned for the underlying problems that this is evident of and I pray that the congregation will deal with it in a Godly and Biblical way.

      “Woohooo” should be all of our sentiments for celebration of the Lord’s birth and weekly worship!

      Conrade, I agree. The next big issue will be dealing with reactions for the congreagation. I really hope the pastor doesn’t just ignore any sort of disagreement.

      I think it is sad that some only come on Christmas, but I am extremely glad that they do come. Being a witness is a big call of the Church and that call cannot be ignored. (Thanks for coming by again Conrade, glad to see you have a blog!)

    9. December 2nd, 2005 at 18:33 | #9

      Wait wait wait wait wait…
      The Church is going to not have services on the Sunday of Christmas? Shouldn’t there like always be a service and like even more so ’cause it’s like that whole day that Jesus was born and…
      That makes no sense. Well hope you’re still able to have a Merry Christmas anyway, I know how you like that whole Church thing.

    10. December 2nd, 2005 at 19:39 | #10

      This isn’t all that unusual actually. I’m not saying that I think it’s right, but I have heard of it often. I no longer attend any church, but I remember it happenening every time Christmas fell on a Sunday. I suppose that part of the rationale is that people are likely to be spending time with thier families or traveling away from home. I admit that having been away from the church for so long, I am probably not the authority on these things. But I really don’t think this is a big problem. I do, however, support you in your desire to get answers from your pastor. Maybe you could arrange to hold a meeting of your own at the church for anyone else who would like to attend?

    11. December 2nd, 2005 at 20:20 | #11

      That is exactly what I am telling you Jongular! And yes, I do like that whole church thing. ;)

      I do think it is very unusual in the sense that it is not usual to what the church is supposed to be. But I think it does happen more than it should, often even. I agree that that is part of the rationale, I just don’t think (as I pointed out in my letter), that it is valid rationale. From outside the church this may not look like a big deal, its only one Sunday, right? But from within the church, this is a symptom of something deeper; that Christ is there to serve us rather than us here serving Christ. Thank you very much for your thoughts and comments on the matter!

    12. December 3rd, 2005 at 10:10 | #12

      Let me take the opposite approach, Matt. As the pastor of a small country church, I decided to move our regular Sunday morning service this Dec. 25 to Saturday night, Dec. 24. We have been doing a Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve for the past 5-6 years for those who are available to come. This year, I’ve combined a regular Sunday morning service with the Candlelight service. It should be very special.

      I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of not having a service on Sunday morning, but I also realize that church is more than having a predictable schedule of services. A church is a group of people who encourage one another in our walk with Jesus Christ. Moving a service time doesn’t defeat that purpose.

      Granted, my church is a bit different than most. We have no (count ‘em, ZERO) Christmas/Easter attenders. There have been none in my eight years at this church. And frankly, if any decided to show up it would be just as likely on Christmas Eve as Christmas morning.

      Your point about stopping our secular Christmas schedule for celebration of the Reason for the season is valid, but is there a need to block out times for corporate worship twice in 15 hours (or three times in 24 hours if you have a Sunday night service too)? Our obligation to Christ is a whole lot more than a day planner full of church activities. If anything, perhaps we should be among unbelieving family during this time to be the light of the world we’re supposed to be.

      In short, I agree that there should be service times when Christmas is Sunday, but to say it’s wrong for it not to be Christmas morning is an overreaction, IMO.

    13. December 3rd, 2005 at 11:30 | #13

      This somehow sounds like laziness, or the pastor and staff just wanted to spend Christmas day with their families instead of working. I recall one Christmas when I was a kid that happened on a Sunday. Services, usually scheduled at 8am were pushed back to 11am. 11am, the church was filled, as usual. I don’t see why your church couldn’t do the same.

    14. December 3rd, 2005 at 12:47 | #14

      rev, thanks for some opposing thoughs and I think they are well worth some meditation. While I think your thoughts may work for a small country church, they cannot apply to a larger city church (our church is not actually that large with 125+ members). It seems that there is more dialogue going on in your church and moving the service to Christmas Eve may work for you as there is consent and there isn’t the worry that you might have newcomers on Christmas Day. Our chuch will definitely have more people on Christmas day than normal (and that fact, in my opinion, reason enough to be open) and there has not been any sort of communication/dialogue between the pastor/session and the church and there was the feeling that this decisions was just sprung on the session and they just went along with it without actually taking time to think/pray it over (of course, this is heresay and not anything I can say for sure).

      While I still might disagree with your decision for closing on Sunday, I can at least see your reasoning and recognize that that might work for your church, but I don’t feel it works for mine. As I have suggested before, this seems to be a symptom of something larger. Yes, we are having two services (that some families come to) on Christmas Eve, that may be enough for some. But that is not up to the church to decide. We don’t need an eloborate service on Sunday, we just need a service (as it is Sunday and Christas). I am almost willing to agree with jayne’s statement that “This somehow sounds like laziness, or the pastor and staff just wanted to spend Christmas day with their families instead of working.” I don’t want to completely agree untill I have actually talked to our pastor, but I am worried that, to a degree, she is right.

      Thank you both for your comments on this dialogue, I think it is important to work through these issues!

    15. Mom
      December 3rd, 2005 at 13:00 | #15

      In all fairness to the church Matt is referring to, we have traditionally had a Christmas Eve “family-oriented” service at 7:00 that is well attended (more than our usual Sunday morning services). We also have an 11:00 communion service which is much smaller, but a very meaningful service. This will happen this year on Christmas Eve….and a “worship packet” is being prepared by our pastor to be used in the home on Christmas morning (an appeasement?). So, some thought has gone into this decision. It just never dawned on me that we wouldn’t have church on Christmas Sunday and it was a shock.

    16. December 3rd, 2005 at 13:54 | #16

      Thanks for that. It is good to have that additional information as well. I do tend to fall back on the thought that we don’t need anything big on Sunday. Having a “worship packet” is a good thing, but it is like putting a bandaid on a wassive wound. Home worship, is not church. Church is there to serve Christ, it isn’t something we should be able to manipulate to fit our needs.

    17. December 3rd, 2005 at 15:43 | #17

      What about the pastor wanting to take a day off to be with his family? And the worship team, and the ushers, etc, etc.

    18. December 3rd, 2005 at 16:45 | #18

      Two things on that: Firstly, I have no problem with pastors taking days off, they should be able to just like every other Joe. But NOT on Christmas or Easter. Those two days are the days when a Pastor is significantly representing their church. It would be like a baseball player taking the World Series off or a prefessor taking the first day of classes off – it just doesn’t make sense. Secondly, have said that, if they want to take the day off, well that is their choice, I don’t have to have the pastor there. Often times, including this one, there are many people who are ordained in the church congregation, let them lead. Or, heck, they don’t even have to be ordained. I could get up and read through a Gospel, people could pray, we could sing a hymn a cappella. As I said before, it doesn’t have to be fancy.

    19. December 3rd, 2005 at 20:33 | #19

      One last question:

      You wrote: Yes, we are having two services (that some families come to) on Christmas Eve, that may be enough for some. But that is not up to the church to decide.

      Who should decide?

    20. December 3rd, 2005 at 21:37 | #20

      Ah yes, I don’t think I said that very well. I think the church as a whole should decide, not just the pastor and session. Normally I would say that the church body should be comforatable in going along with decisions made by the pastor and session (although should still feel free to raise concerns), but in this case I feel differently. The decision was supposedly based on the assumption that no one would show up. Why base a decision as large as this one on an assumption when you could just ask the church to find out if it is true. My family alone would contradict that assumption, is one family enough to change that decision? Maybe not, but my guess is there are more families that would show up. (While asking the church body directly will remove any assumptions made by the pastor and session, it doesn’t address the issue of those people that just show up on Christmas, what about them? There is still an assumption that they will not show up.) Thanks for pointing that out rev!

    21. December 4th, 2005 at 19:29 | #21

      OK, good, you had me worried there for a minute, Matt!

      I’ve never been much of a Presbyterian, so I’m not big on taking church membership votes on much. Leadership is selected/elected for a reason. A professor once asked me to find any decision in the early church made by the congregation. I couldn’t find one.

    22. December 5th, 2005 at 09:32 | #22

      I think most Presbyterians would agree with you rev! And really, I do too, except in this case where they are basing their decision on something they can find out directly (It isn’t just a matter of “what do we think is best for the church?” It is, “will people show up?” Just ask: “will you be here?”). Your thoughts on that really are something to consider and might mean I should just let this go. In reality this will probably have to be the case. I would still like to talk to the pastor directly (which I won’t be able to do for another 2 weeks). It is really good to have some thoughts from the other side of the issue!

    23. December 5th, 2005 at 14:21 | #23
    24. December 5th, 2005 at 21:23 | #24

      Thanks for the links Stat! There are definitely some interesting things being discussed in relation to this topic and it is good to be able to interact with them.

      I still think that Jae said it best: “this is just one rather obvious instance of how God really comes last for most of us fat and happy christians.” This is a pretty harsh statement, but I think if we cut through a lot of the crap it is more than likely fairly accurate.

    25. December 9th, 2005 at 15:53 | #25

      I’m a bit slow on the uptake on this one, but your letter was excellent. You made a strong case (as well as an accurate one…your point about Easter was especially poignant) and were very diplomatic about it. Nice work. I’m glad that they changed their mind.

    26. Nelson
      December 9th, 2005 at 19:37 | #26

      Christianity Today’s Blog in its preface to the postings regarding “No Church on Christmas” noted:

      “There are so many angles to this story—the nature of church, the consequences of equating “pro-family” ideology with Christianity, the challenges of Christmas services’ attendance (largely attended by non-Christians), the changing nature of Christmas, the subordination of religion to “family” at a time when “pro-family” groups are arguing for more explicitly religious Christmas greetings … .”

      One angle I see, sadly, is this looks like Christians becoming Post-Christian.

    27. December 10th, 2005 at 16:08 | #27

      I am glad they reversed their decision as well… although now I “have” to be an usher. Heh. :)

      Thanks for that quote Nelson. Here is the link to the Christianity Today blog article.

      Also from the article: “Parkinson told the Tribune that Willow Creek [a Megachurch] is taking the money it would have cost to conduct a Sunday service and is instead putting it into producing and distributing a Christmas DVD, “potentially touching thousands more people than the same message from the stage on Sunday morning.”"

      Nice thought I suppose, but still a cop out.

      Church is, what, 2, maybe 3 hours out of your day? And when it is reduced down to this level of “how much time is it going to take”, Church is reduced to the “I have to go” mentality, not “I want to go”. If you are of the former, you might want to evaluate where your loyalties lay. If you say to God and not the Church, I would say it is damn near impossible to separate the two, no matter how you rationalize it.

    28. Elder Neil Rotach
      December 12th, 2005 at 08:04 | #28

      Eleven years ago Christmas also fell on a Sunday. The pastor usually takes the week between Christmas Eve and New Years Day as a vacation week, to be with family 300+ miles away. That year they left right after the 7:00 pm candlelight service, and I led the worship on Sunday morning. We had a couple of readings, Christmas Carols toour heart’s content, and the stories behind some of the carols. We prayed, we read, we sang. All very low-key and extremely satisfying. This year the question was raised again, and three emebers of our session were instantly and vehemently opposed to closing the church on Christmas Day! We carried the session, and the Pastor [who is not going away this year] agreed to a low-key service along the same lines as 11 years ago.
      I grew up in a church that even had a church service on Thanksgiving Morning – women were expected to come in their aprons, and all attended, and the air was festive, and everybody smelled like turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie! So the idea of closing the church on Christmas Day, or for any other reason than seriously inclement weather [this is upstate New York, after all], is completely anathema to me.
      As Tiny Tim said: “God bless us, Every One!” no matter when or where we worship.
      -neil-

    29. December 12th, 2005 at 15:44 | #29

      Thanks for your additions here neil! I would love to have a low-key service on Christmas morning. As we are having a more “official” service Christmas eve, I think a low-key service on Sunday morning with some scripture reading, prayer, and singing would be very appropriate. But not having one? Just never seemed possible! I’m not sure why some think we have to have something extravagant for a service. Heh, it makes me think of Indiana Jones when they have to choose the Holy Grail and it ends up being the Carpenter’s cup (naturally) as opposed to the lavish gold one.

      Thanks again Neil!

    30. December 19th, 2005 at 21:02 | #30

      I find it hard to believe churches would close because of a religious holiday :(

    31. December 20th, 2005 at 00:10 | #31

      I agree, it seems a little bit odd to me.

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