It only rolls around once every five or six years, but when Christmas falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, being in worship is the perfect way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
While many Florida Annual Conference churches have Christmas Eve worship services, this year churches are encouraging their members to resist the urge to spend the day at home and come to church to celebrate with their church families.
The Rev. Clark Campbell-Evans, senior pastor at St. Paul’s UMC in Tallahassee, is hopeful the congregation will attend a 10 a.m. worship service on Christmas. (The church normally has three services each Sunday.)
“This is such a powerful time for us as followers of Christ to celebrate who we are at our core,” Campbell-Evans said. “The birth of Jesus Christ is really a big part of who we are. I would hope that everyone able will be in worship to share in the experience.”
The Rev. Barry Andrews, pastor at Faith UMC in Jacksonville, said being in worship on Christmas is the most appropriate way to observe the birth of Jesus, so he will look for his flock at the 10 a.m. hour. Andrews has told them he expects them to attend.
“I think being in worship is truly keeping Christ in Christmas,” Andrews said. “I want everyone to be here, no one gets a pass. I think it’s an important witness for neighbors to see us going to church. It’s an important lesson for the children to have to go to church. It’s about Christ more than it is about presents. This is a special and unique opportunity.”
The opportunity for visitors also exists. Last year Andrews said at least 30 percent of the people who attended the Christmas Eve service were strangers. One family traveling on Interstate 95 used their iPhone to find the church that is located close to the highway. “We are not used to a lot of visitors,” said Andrews of the church where an attendance averages 100. “It was a real treat.”
Trinity UMC in Gainesville will treat those who attend its 11 a.m. service Christmas Day to lunch. Even though there will have been five Christmas Eve services, on Christmas day there will be chili and a covered dish brunch so the church will not only celebrate but also feast together.
The Rev. David Allen Jr., associate pastor at the church, said the congregation is being prepared for Christmas by The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. Allen is also expecting a large Christmas attendance.
First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, is also expecting its members to be in church that day. The church will be merging its five Sunday worship times into one at 11 a.m. including elements and music from all of its services, including its Korean ministry.
The Rev. David McEntire, senior pastor at the church, will also teach an inter-generational/interactive combined Sunday School class designed to bring focus on the joy Christians experience in God’s gift of himself to the world. He has been promoting coming together and worshipping as a family. He is optimistic that families will celebrate at home in the early morning hours and then attend worship “to include God’s great gift to the world as part of their celebrations that day.”
The Rev. Matt White, senior pastor at New Hope UMC in Windermere, expects good Christmas attendance because the church is combining its worship service with Windermere Union Church’s.
New Hope UMC, which launched Dec. 5, 2010, leases space from the church that is part of the Church of Christ denomination.White said since his church normally worships from 8:45 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. and the other church normally meets at 10 a.m., the congregations will worship together at 10 a.m. Christmas morning. Attendance is hard to predict but White is optimistic that the faithful will show up.
That’s what happened to Campbell-Evans when he was serving Fulford UMC in Miami. When Christmas fell on a Sunday, Campbell-Evans expected low attendance and wore jeans to the service.
“What I didn’t know is that the area around the church was then heavily populated with people of Caribbean descent and the church was packed,” Campbell-Evans said. “People had on their absolute best. The men wore suits, women had on hats, little boys wore ties and girls had on petticoats. I had to hurry to put on my robe on top of my jeans since I hadn’t dressed up. It was a lesson in cross-cultural ministry.”
This year Campbell-Evans is encouraging all the faithful to show up throughout the annual conference. "The birth of Jesus is at the center of our faith, we should come together Christmas day and celebrate," he said.