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Christmas comes but once a year, but when it arrives on a Sunday it can be problematic for pastors.
While a national survey by LifeWay Research found that 9 of 10 Protestant churches plan to hold services on Christmas Day this year, a number of local pastors are skipping services on the holiday because they don’t want to impose on volunteers or interfere with what some consider to be a sacred time for families.
“We really grapple with that issue,” said the Rev. Joe Keblesh, rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in West Toledo, which is forgoing services on Christmas.
He said St. Matthew’s will hold a Christmas Eve service that honors the religious holiday while also allowing members to spend Christmas morning with family.
“It is important to celebrate this major event in our history, the coming of God to be one of us, but we do that on the eve,” Father Keblesh said. “It’s also important for the family to have time together. Both are sacred and this was the best decision we could come up with.”
The same choice was made at CedarCreek Church, the largest church in northwest Ohio, although its pre-Christmas options are more plentiful.
CedarCreek is planning two Christmas-themed services on Dec. 22, two on Dec. 23, and five on Dec. 24.
The Rev. Lee Powell, senior pastor, said he expects a total of 25,000 people to attend the multiple pre-Christmas services at the nondenominational, independent megachurch’s four area campuses and its “online campus.”
“If people ask, ‘Are you having Christmas services?’ the answer is, ‘Yeah, 45 of them,’?” Mr. Powell said. “So for us, we are celebrating the birth of Christ three days before Christmas Day, starting Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. … We have about 1,200 to 1,500 volunteers and we want the volunteers and the staff to enjoy time with their families.”
For Roman Catholics, it is never a debate because Christmas is one of the church’s Holy Days of Obligation.
“Sunday is considered a Holy Day every week for Catholics,” said Msgr. Charles Singler, director of the worship office and vocations director for the Toledo diocese. “In addition to that, Christmas is on Sunday this year so it’s ‘both/and.’?For us it’s a double blessing. It’s doesn’t make a lot of difference to Catholics whether Christmas is on Sunday or another day.”
Ed Stetzer, president of the Nashville-based LifeWay Research, said a survey this year of 1,000 Protestant pastors showed that 91 percent planned to have services on Christmas Day while 69 percent said they would host Christmas Eve services.
“Having church on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday seems as if it would be as much of a given as having Thanksgiving on a Thursday,” Mr. Stetzer said, “but this has been an issue of discussion and contention in recent years. Also, just because an overwhelming majority of pastors think that way doesn’t mean those in their congregations necessarily share their perspective.”
The Rev. Larry Whatley, pastor of Turning Point United Methodist Church in Bowling Green, acknowledged many seats may be empty, but it won’t stop him from holding church.
“I can’t say it’s going to be a full house, but I’m planning to go ahead and have church anyway,” Mr. Whatley said. “Some people who don’t have family to spend Christmas with will want to be somewhere on Christmas Day, and this gives them an opportunity to do that.”
The Rev. John E. Roberts, pastor of Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist church, said he would be “a nervous wreck” if he didn’t have church on Christmas Day.
“We are thankful for his birth. If it were not for him, we would have no Christmas to celebrate,” Mr. Roberts said. “We owe it to him.”
Cornerstone Church and the Church on Strayer, two of the largest Protestant churches in Maumee, also are having church on Christmas morning.
“We’re having a family communion service at 10 a.m.,” the Rev. Robert Pitts, associate pastor of Cornerstone said.
“It will be somewhat abbreviated, compared to a normal Sunday when we have multiple services. But we believe it’s a good way to start your Christmas morning.”
The Rev. Tony Scott, pastor of the Church on Strayer, said the church will hold two Christmas Eve services and two Christmas morning services.
“We always have a discussion when it comes up every seven or eight years, but we feel that on that day people ought to have an opportunity to worship if they want to,” Mr. Scott said. “We are going to have an abbreviated service, but it definitely is going to be a worship service.”
The Rev. Bill Herzog, pastor of Vineyard Church in Perrysburg, said his church is focusing on its Christmas Eve gathering, and will be closed on Christmas morning.
“I think for most people, Christmas mornings will be family times,” Mr. Herzog said. “We can do a good job on Christmas Eve. If they really want to go to a worship service, we’ll give them a list of places that are doing church.”
Calvary Assembly of God Church in South Toledo also plans to skip services on Christmas Day.
“We decided for the sake of the volunteers and with three Christmas Eve services we would not have the regular Sunday services,” said the Rev. Chad Gilligan, senior pastor.
But that doesn’t mean Calvary attenders can’t attend a worship service. Mr. Gilligan said the church will provide a 15-minute video, available on DVD and online, with worship songs and a brief sermon.
“They can use the video to have their own worship service with their family on Christmas Day,” he said.
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.