(Trinity Episcopal Church in winter, Kirksville, MO)
(This post originally written for Daily Episcopalian, December --, 2011)
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
--Collect at the Prayers of the People, p. 395, Book of Common Prayer
When our parish had services on Christmas Day, 2010, only a handful of folks in the congregation could recall the last time we'd worshiped together on Christmas Day proper. We always had services on Christmas Eve, but the best recollection was it had been "a few priests ago" when we had celebrated both days. (Never mind it being a principal feast day; the excuse we always heard was "Truman's on break, and no one will be there.")
Given that we are located in a college town, and most of our parishioners either work at or attend Truman State University, we have an odd demographic when it comes to Christmas. The campus holiday break assures that a good chunk of our parish will be out of town during that time, and it's also a safe bet that our nicely prepared Servants of Worship schedule will be missing a few lectors, chalice-bearers, acolytes, and folks to do Prayers of the People. We often find ourselves "winging it" a little bit with the various lay roles. Since the bulk of my relatives live nearby, I'm always around at Christmas--so I often become one of the people doing the winging. I have joked that "I've played every position at our church but pitcher."
So those of us who showed up on Christmas Day that year were not entirely sure what to expect. We weren't sure who was in town or not. It was a small intimate bunch, but the coffee hour was magic. There was laughter and fun we never knew we could have at 11:30 a.m. on Christmas Day.
So I started actually looking forward to this year's Christmas Day service, and the subsequent coffee hour. Was last year just a one shot deal, or was it the start of something new? I admit, my "looking forward" was a little apprehensive in spots. Would I be disappointed?
Ha! It was even better! We laughed harder and more loudly than last time.
What I'm realizing is, "something's growing."
As we start to do a few things together in terms of mission, as we have a few new people show up, there's a different kind of relationship we are all developing with each other. It's part of how changing the focus changes people. It's part of how congregational development is not just "numbers." Sure, I'd like our numbers to be bigger--but I think over time, that will come in a modest way. A telltale sign for me is that our coffee hour goes on a LONG time when we have those "small in number" services, compared to our usual Sunday attendance.
It's a season for "birth," and I don't know what will grow from this, but I sense that things are birthing all around in our parish. What will next Christmas be like?