Church holds Christmas Eve service in Irish pub

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church holds Christmas Eve service in Irish pub

By Erik J. Alsgaard | Jan. 11, 2010 {1118}

WINTER PARK — It’s Christmas Eve, and the regular crowd has shuffled in to Fiddler’s Green Irish Pub and Eatery. Families are finishing their dinners. Two gentlemen argue football on bar stools by a TV. A waitress in hot pants serves customers.

John King (left), Meghan Dill and Jonathan Rowe lead Christmas hymns and carols at the pub. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #10-1362.

Without a word, John King, Meghan Dill and Jonathan Rowe take to the small stage, nestled in the back corner of the pub, with barely enough room for all three. David Killingsworth waits in the wings for his time to bring the Christmas message.

“We’re here to give you a little gift of music tonight,” King said. Several patrons hardly notice the interruption. “We’re from the United Methodist church down the street, and we hope you enjoy our music.”

With that, the trio softly begins to play, and Dill leads them in singing “Joy to the World.” A few hardy souls join in, scanning the words from song sheets passed out a few moments earlier. One woman uses her iPhone to retrieve the words and join in.

It’s the second year First United Methodist Church in Winter Park has brought the church to the pub.

“We want to be responsive to various ways of taking the ministry of the church out into the community, including the ministry of worship,” said the Rev. Bob Bushong, senior pastor at the church, in an interview with e-Review prior to the service. “On this, the thought is to take an informal worship experience into a place in the community where people gather, where some people may be lonely, where all people have spoken and unspoken needs, as a way not only to talk about, but to live out the theology of incarnation. Jesus was born out in the world, not in the temple.”

The music trio played a few well-known Christmas carols, and Killingsworth delivered a short message on the meaning and importance of Christmas.

“We wanted to share the joy of the Christmas story and what Christmas means and why it’s significant to the community in a place where it’s not often shared,” Killingsworth said in an interview before the service.

Killingsworth wasn’t able to participate in the first Christmas Eve service at the pub, but he had heard it went well and wanted to be part of the 2009 experience.

Confessing that he was a bit nervous to be preaching in a pub, Killingsworth said he was going to be deliberate, honest and forward about what they were doing.

“I really love the concept,” he said. “I’m really excited to be doing this.”

“I’ve come here for social hours,” said Rowe, one of the guitar players in the group, “but never to lead worship. Church can be anywhere. It doesn’t have to be under the steeple and inside the sanctuary. It’s believers getting together and God being with us.”

Rowe, a life-long member of the church, said the group viewed its 30-minute worship service as an outreach opportunity, a chance to introduce God and Jesus Christ to an audience that may never hear the message. It was also a unique opportunity, he said, to invite people who might be lonely to come to church and experience fellowship with other people.

David Killingsworth shares a Christmas message with the pub’s guests. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #10-1363.

Killingsworth began his message by saying Christmas is a time of year when everyone seems to be happy.

“You see it everywhere,” he said. “There’s a happy spirit in the air. It’s like nothing can go wrong during the season leading up to Christmas.”

But that’s not the truth for everyone, he said. The world is in a world of hurt, and often, people are not allowed to show it.

“As we gather tonight, remember that there are people for whom this will be a painful time,” Killingsworth said. “That is a certain truth that we have to wrestle with.”

The good news, he said, is that in the birth of Jesus Christ — in the incarnation — the “supreme being” came down to earth to live the human experience, from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

“But God came not only to live an experience, but to transform it,” he said.

“We don’t have to live like this anymore,” Killingsworth added. “In the midst of all our pain and all our stuff, Christ enters in. It’s up to us to respond to it.”

The four members bringing the service to the pub also participate in the church’s praise band, and immediately after their 7 p.m. worship service at the pub, they dashed down the street to make the 8 p.m. Christmas Eve contemporary service at the church — but not until they invited everyone in the pub to join them.

“We hope to see you,” said Rowe before signing off from the stage. “If not, we want to wish you all a merry Christmas.”

And with that, the band began to sing its final hymn, a soft rendition of “Silent Night.” Slowly, almost without notice, the pub began to quiet. And as the last notes of the hymn drifted out the door, the pub began to return to normal. Even the jukebox started up again: the Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.

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