Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, as it does every so often. Christmas on Sunday comes with some advantages and disadvantages for congregations. Recently, several Inland Northwest church leaders pondered both.
1) Doubling up on Sunday and Christmas services saves energy.
Not just for the church buildings, but for the men and women who create the church experience. Church services are often huge productions. They require clergy and other church leaders to do the services, and volunteers to help. Heat and lights must be turned on. Doughnuts and coffee attended to.
When Christmas is on Saturday, as it was last year, churches geared up for Christmas Eve on Friday, and then celebrated Christmas on Saturday.
“By the time we reached Sunday, people were churched out,” said Brian Albrecht, vicar of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Spokane.
At Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Spokane, lay church leaders told the senior pastor to stay home on Christmas and renew her energy through family time.
They will organize and lead the service themselves.
So Pastor Andrea “Andy” CastroLang will stay home, guilt-free.
“We don’t have a tradition of asking people to show up on Christmas day, and we don’t have a feeling of guilt for not going,” she said.
Some churches canceled Christmas day/Sunday services entirely.
Eastpoint Church in Spokane Valley will hold Christmas services Friday and Saturday but shut down the megachurch on Sunday.
“We are really strong family supporters,” said Kurt Bubna, senior pastor. “It’s a family holiday. They can sleep in and stay in their pajamas all day.”
2) It helps the lonely.
“Some people have no family to celebrate with, and Christmas morning by yourself can be lonely,” said Richard Finch, pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Spokane.
3) It is theologically loaded.
St. John’s Albrecht explained: “Christmas is a Christian holiday where we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s the first step along (Jesus’) way. On Sundays, we commemorate the resurrection.
“Christmas on Sunday is a nice link between the two, between Jesus’ birth and his final step – the resurrection.”
1) No double offering/collection.
Many churches depend on the Christmas collection to help balance their yearly budgets. People who never attend church, except on Christmas, add greatly to the coffers. And often they feel generous, because of the holiday spirit – or out of guilt for the lack of church going the rest of the year.
Churches will still host plenty of once-a-year attendees this Christmas Sunday, but the regulars won’t be hit up for donations on two separate occasions.
2) Attendance will be down.
Church leaders predict Midnight Masses, and other Christmas Eve services, will be popular this year, because of the flexibility it will allow people Christmas morning.
In anticipation of lower attendance on Christmas Sunday, some churches will streamline the number of services offered.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, for instance, dropped its early morning Mass on Sunday and will have only one – at 10:45 a.m.
“Every seven years, I look forward to see who the diehards are who make it to church on Christmas day,” Finch said.
3) Not as many people will see the church decorations.
Poinsettias everywhere. Crèches galore. Candles burning brightly. Churches decorate for Christmas the way people dress up for weddings. It’s expensive, time-consuming and glorious.
With Christmas landing on Sunday this year, the decorations miss out on one major viewing day – Christmas day all by itself.
Most churches, however, keep their decorations up for a week or more during the Christmas season, which means churchgoers will have the chance to see the holiday finery on Jan. 1, the Sunday after Christmas.
Advantages and disadvantages of church on New Year’s Day? Now that’s another story.