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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Canceling services this Sunday: big deal

Al Neuharth Gannett News Service

When Christmas falls on Sunday, as it does this year, a growing number of “megachurches” across the U.S. are giving pastors and parishioners the day off, with no services. The custom is highly controversial and frowned on by some evangelical Christian leaders. Putting it in perspective:

• About 100 megachurches that are closing this Christmas Sunday have about 375,000 members.

• Megachurches that will have services as usual number 1,400 and have more than 5 million worshipers.

• Congregations of all sizes and all religions in this country total about 340,000, with more than 54 million people attending regular, weekly services.

Megachurches mostly are located in the suburbs of large cities. Their average weekly worship attendance is about 4,000. About 40 percent are in the South, 32 percent in the West and 21 percent in the Midwest, according to Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., near Chicago, is considered a pacesetter among megachurches, drawing about 20,000 worshipers each weekend. It expects a huge Christmas Eve turnout but will be closed on Sunday. It is providing members with a special Christmas DVD for home-viewing.

When I was a kid, my mother made sure I sat in the front row in Sunday school every week. My lifelong association with organized religious groups has been invaluable. But as I’ve grown older, I find that meditating alone or with family members can bring deep, inner spiritual satisfaction. A small outdoor chapel in our backyard is a daily stopping place.

For Christians who believe that God is with you wherever you are, megachurches taking a Christmas Sunday off shouldn’t be such a big deal.

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