From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
With the easing of restrictions in NSW and the ACT, congregations across our Presbytery are giving important consideration to when and how they might resume or modify in-person gatherings for worship, Bible study groups, meetings, and ways they are in mission with their local communities. These considerations and the resulting planning are demanding much time and energy to take into account advice from governments and our Synod, the longing to be together again in person, the need to be safe, and the concern about excluding people. With all that going on, it may feel like too much to begin to think about … Christmas.
Even in years when we didn’t have COVID or other natural disasters, the lead up to Christmas brings with it a degree of pressure and even some anxious moments as congregation leaders begin to think through: What will we do this year?
A suggestion for these COVID times – keep it simple and include your local community.
You are already responding to the heavy demands arising from the changing restrictions, so don’t overburden yourself with high expectations of a huge extravaganza for the Christmas celebrations of your congregation. Instead, keep it simple. And include your local community in your plans. As you are making plans, keep your local community in mind – what would be easy for them to participate in, especially at this stage of new COVID normal?
Given the physically isolated lives we have been living over the last few months, your local community may well have a greater urge this Christmas to get together for celebrations with people beyond their limited COVID circle – maybe even your congregation. At the same time, we might also expect people to be cautious. They may want time with wider community, but there could be anxiety about being safe.
One of the messages we have received from health advisors is that outdoors is safer than indoors. So this year, it makes even more sense for Christmas celebrations to be planned as outdoor events. That is a total pain when it comes to dealing with what the weather will dish up. But, your local community is going to feel safer outdoors than indoors.
We’ve also been hearing that it is important to be minimising our time out and about … only 1 hour of exercise … click and collect (or delivery) to minimise your time in the grocery store … plan your trip to the store so that you are indoors for the least amount of time. So our local community is going to feel more comfortable with shorter rather than longer Christmas celebrations.
With all that in mind, one of our congregations is looking towards an outdoor Christmas carols event. Not one that goes on and on and on. But something shorter. If they can safely manage a sausage sizzle, then that will be a great addition to have on offer during the carols. This is a congregation that is happy to dress up in character roles, so there may well be shepherds and angels running the BBQ.
What about a theme for the evening? I reckon this is one of the questions that ministry leaders wrestle with most in the lead up to the big Christian seasons of the year – what angle will we take this year that is fresh, has currency and will make a good news difference for our local community?
A suggestion you might like to work with … “What star are you following”. You already see the link to a part of the Christmas narrative. In terms of currency … for many people these COVID times have turned life upside down and they are making decisions for new life directions … what do they turn toward to guide them in these decision … what is shedding light on their meaning making? For some there are changes in employment. Perhaps the change comes from necessity because their previous job has gone or is no longer reliable. For others the COVID restrictions have allowed them to get out of the rat race, or off the treadmill, and they don’t want to go back. People are making decisions to get out of the cities and move to the regions where they can still work from home. Some people are loving the extra time they’ve been having with family. For others it is increasing stress, fear and danger. What star are they following through these changes?
As your congregations plans for Christmas this year, keep it simple and include your local community. Once you have your plans, find the ways to tell your local community about it – use your website, facebook, other social media and traditional media – newspaper, letter box drops, banner on your church building.
As you think of other simple ways to include your local community in Christmas celebrations, why not share them across our Presbytery to help each other with ideas. Please send them to me for inclusion in these weekly notices.