Saturday, December 24, 2011
Can it be Christmas without the Christmass?
In my own case, many "regulars" from my parish will be absent from our Christmas celebrations due to travel and family gatherings far away. This has always been true. Nevertheless, we will have upwards of 500 on Christmas Eve and another 100 or so on Christmas Day and all the services are the full Divine Service. There are those who believe that close(d) communion makes it hard to offer the Sacrament on those occasions when many non-members will be present. I wonder why? We have not had this problem. Of the 400 or so who will commune, all but a handful are well known to me. Some are family members who grew up in this parish and have returned home to celebrate with family. Some are the C & E folk whose church attendance seems forever linked to December 25 and the current date of Easter. Some are the new folks for whom Christmas has been the occasion to begin establishing or renewing their relationship with a local Lutheran congregation (often military families). Only a few dozen are the technical strangers whom no one knows. That is why I am accessible before the service to seek them out and find out who they are and help them determine if they are welcome to commune. All but a few have been understanding and agreeable with this process over the 32 years I have served as a Pastor. About the only ones who have tried to make or cause offense over it are those who knew better than to commune (I remember a Unitarian minister and his family, for example, and still to this day cannot understand why he even came!).
Some are troubled with the length of the service when so many are in the pews. We plan on about 80-90 minutes for each liturgy -- filled with choir music and the full Divine Service. We do make a nod to more efficient communion by going to a continuous distribution (part of our rail is obscured by Christmas trees).
Some hold special services designed for folks outside the Church. I suppose this is one I could understand but even then it might tell those outside our communion a bit more about who we are by having them witness the high regard of the Sacrament of the Altar.
I would hope and expect that all our congregations will hold a Christ Mass on Christmas. Can we do less? Is it Christmas without the Christ Mass?