by *Rev. Kathy Noble
As was mentioned in the most recent addition to the Advent 2011: Preparing for Christmas series in which we discussed how churches can help those who might be struggling financially and/or spiritually find peace and joy during the Christmas season, Rev. Kathy Noble has put together quite a nice list of several ways that churches can help simplify the holidays for all. Here is that article. Enjoy, and, as always, if it inspires you to share some of your ideas with your CTC family, please e-mail them in and we’ll work those into our ongoing Advent 2011 series.
For United Methodists seeking to be good stewards, simplifying will mean less spending and more time to focus on the meaning rather than the method of giving thanks or celebrating Christmas according to the Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room Chapel, General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), Nashville, Tenn.
“Simplifying starts now with family meetings,” adds the Rev. Mary Alice Gran, director of children's ministries, GBOD. “Churches can help families prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.”
Here are a few of my favorite ideas for helping to simplify Christmas.
Hold a “Black Friday” gratuity party
Invite people to the church on the day after Thanksgiving for a “leftovers only” carry-in lunch or dinner. Make it an alternative to socializing—and spending—at the malls. Ask people to think about one or two people who have blessed their lives and, as they wish, share with others at their table. Provide a quiet space for those who wish to write letters to these people. Others can hang the greens, play table games, make wrapping paper for handmade gifts or enjoy other low-stress activities.
Stage an Advent fair
Have this either on the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, or on the Friday or Saturday before. Plan activities for all ages, such as making calendars, guides or wreaths to move from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany. Make decorations focusing on the Christmas story, cards or gifts and decorate cookies. If you have a meal, keep it simple.
Simplify the church calendar
Make Advent and Christmas “meetings-free” seasons. Create a time the church truly prepares for and celebrates the birth of Christ. Strive to make the services and activities the church offers as stress-free as possible for participants and presenters.
Decorate trees on the church property with bird-friendly food. Make popcorn strings or strings of grapes, cranberries or dried fruit. Mix peanut butter with cornmeal or uncooked oatmeal, spread it on a pinecone, and roll it in birdseed.
Let the story guide your service
“Experience the biblical story with people or places that are part of it,” Rev. Albin urges. Organize times for groups from the church to serve people who are homeless or have other needs. "Embody the text by reading the story before you go, and then again when you get back,” he says. Consider doing this as well before caroling to shut-ins or in hospitals or nursing homes.
Give everyone a part
Have other events with activities for all ages, including Christmas carol sing-alongs or caroling parties and impromptu Christmas programs in which anyone can put on a costume and participate.
“Encourage people who make gifts to pray for the recipients as they work,” Rev. Albin says. “Add a note saying, 'This gift comes along with my prayer for you' or the promise, 'I will pray for you from Christmas to the new year.'"
Conduct "gently used" drives
Invite children to give gently used toys or books for other children. The same idea can apply to gently used clothing. People may be willing to give such items when money is tight.
Offer quiet services
Offer a “Blue Christmas” or a Service of the Longest Night. Traditionally offered around Dec. 21, this service offers a message of hope and quiet joy while acknowledging the pain and loss many experience in the holiday season.
Give a home on Christmas eve
Be sure to promote your activities in the community as well as to your church family. Make certain to welcome and include all who come to your Christmas Eve service as they hear the message of love and hope.
Make a shepherds' run
Invite people to come early to the Christmas Eve service and bring cookies and candy. Together make plates or small baskets of goodies. Add a note of Christmas wishes from your church. Invite people to make a quick stop or two on the way home and to deliver the goodies to people who work in convenience stores, hospitals, police and fire stations and other places on Christmas Eve.
Rev. Kathy Noble is the editor for the Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine