Posted tagged ‘Christmas Sunday’

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

The Christmas Sunday Quandary

December 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 10, 2016

                              

It seems to be a topic of leadership team conversations at a number of churches across the country. What happens if Christmas Day lands on a Sunday? Does a church still have its Sunday morning worship service…or not?

In a 2005 survey about ten percent of churches said they would not have worship on Christmas Day. My guess is that you could probably triple that percent for 2016. Most of those who are having services readily admit that attenders will have more pew room to spread out in, as numbers will be substantially down. Many churches who are having services are scaling down for it… shortening the time frame, eliminating children’s groups and/or childcare, minimizing the number of people responsible for various elements of the service.

Almost every church that is more liturgical in style is continuing as usual. The make-up of most of the churches that are not meeting on Christmas Day are composed of congregations comprised with a high number of young adults; or churches that would be characterized as non-denominational evangelical.

In an increasing number of congregations the heavy emphasis on Christmas Eve services is the main reason for not meeting on Christmas Day. Mega-churches close to where we live are having five services during that day, with the first one beginning at 11 A.M and the last one at 7 P.M. It’s a marathon event for the church staff, thus no services on Sunday.

On Sunday many of their attenders will frequent a different establishment. Starbucks! It’s open on Christmas Day! Or they will be in front of the TV watching NFL games. They’re still playing!

Such a worship quandary doesn’t appear on the church council very often. The last time it happened was 2011. The next time after this year will be 2022, and then 2033! Besides the heavy Christmas Eve emphasis the main reason for canceling Sunday services is the word “family.” Family seems to trump Jesus! I’m not saying “humbug” to an emphasis on family, but it seems almost like going to the hospital before the birth of a new baby, waiting with expectancy, and then leaving before the new arrival comes! After all, Christmas Day is in celebration of Jesus’ coming; Christmas Eve is about Mary going into labor.

Perhaps Christmas Day worship should be an even higher priority this year as we go through a time of national disunity, and a time when peace seems to be fleeting. The birth of Jesus is the trumpeting of new hope, and God’s saving grace.

This will be my first Christmas as a retired pastor, a has-been! The first time in the past 38 Christmas Eves when I have not been involved in a Christmas Eve Candlelight service, and the first time I will be given the choice of being of the congregation as opposed to leading the congregation. I can sleep in on Christmas morning…or until my bladder wakes up! I can sit by the fireplace and drink egg nog and wait for the grandkids to come over. I can turn the TV on and watch a worship service that is well produced…or I can show up with some of the saints and sing of new life, new hope, and “God is with us!”