My first Christmas as a pastor is in the books.
That is a statement that is still humbling to think about. I had the privilege to walk two congregations through the season of Advent and into the Christmas season. I hope the joy never fades, because it was an amazing experience. There is a lot that is on my mind, as I process all that has taken place in the past days and weeks.
One of the first things that I am aware of is that I could not lead without the support of my two congregations. I am blessed to be the pastor of two very loving and supportive congregations. Mackville and Antioch receive a lot of first appointment pastors, and so the people are continually showing a new pastor “the ropes.” I am appreciative of the grace and support that was shown as I walked through my first Advent and Christmas. I was told what was important to the two congregations, but also given the support to try new things. That was important to me, and I’ll never forget it.
I’m still in awe of what took place on Christmas Eve. Mackville UMC hosts the community Christmas Eve service. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect attendance wise. This was a combination of multiple reasons. One, I was given a rough guess on an attendance from previous years. Two, the last community service we did had a decent attendance, but nothing that you could set as a marker for Christmas Eve. Finally, I’m new and had no idea what to expect. Though we did not do an official count, we estimated more than 80 people were in attendance. The church was entirely filled. That still amazes me. We know there were people who had never been in our church before, which was also a blessing. Hopefully, we will be able to retain some of the people after the holiday season.
The service, itself, was just a joyful experience. We collected a special offering for Harvesting Hope, which is a food bank located in Danville. The amount collected was humbling and a sign of God’s love for all people. I hope to do a special offering on Christmas Eve next year and ever year I’m in ministry. Also, it was a joy to have a great friend and mentor in Jonathan Powers with us that evening. I’m fairly sure the evening would not have gone as well without his leading in music. He did an amazing job, and the community was quite blessed by his leadership.
Finally, the way the calendar worked itself out was something special this year for a first-year pastor. To have Christmas fall on a Sunday was a huge blessing and opportunity. We did a relaxed service at both churches. It was a great way to spend Christmas morning. I was nearly in tears, during the prayer time, at one church. I was overcome with awe of leading a congregation in worship on Christmas.
I won’t make a comment about the churches that did close on Christmas morning other than to say these communities missed a great opportunity to share the love of Christ. Next year, Christmas is on a Tuesday. The opportunity to preach both on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning will be lost, and won’t be back again until 2016. I wonder what we could do on Christmas Day in 2012 that would be appropriately worshipful. I’m thinking of opening the churches for a time of evening prayer and reflection. It is something that I am thinking about, especially going into the new year.
For now, Christmas is behind me as a new pastor. In a way, I’m already looking ahead to Lent. It will be here before we know it. I probably won’t be as nervous, because of the experiences this Christmas season.