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Published: Saturday, 12/21/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

RELIGION

Out of the norm

Christmas isn’t pinnacle celebration for all believers

BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Christmas on Wednesday might be a little bit different from the mainstream celebrations for believers who are Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, and, especially, Jehovah's Witnesses. The manger isn't the Dec. 25 centerpiece for these three denominations.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist at 228 Dudley St., Maumee, and all other area Christian Science churches will hold their every-Wednesday testimony meeting at 7:30 p.m. Christmas night. Chuck Stocking, a member of the Maumee congregation, said, “I would bet you that if you traveled around and heard [many elected lay readers' talks], an awful lot of them are going to be on the Christmas story and the coming of the Christ idea to humanity.” But their services that night aren't special Christmas celebrations. “In terms of any church-prescribed ritual or something, we don't have that. It's really the spirit of Christmas as opposed to all of the hustle and bustle.”

Sunday's Bible lesson, read as a sermon at all Christian Science churches, is titled “Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force?” The meeting is at 11 a.m. Sunday in Maumee, and 10:30 at both Toledo churches, at 4647 W. Central Ave. and 2073 Tremainsville Rd.

For Seventh-day Adventists, the Rev. Mike Fortune, pastor of Toledo First Seventh-day Adventist Church, 4909 W. Sylvania Ave., said, “Our founder Ellen White had no problem with Christmas trees. She said, 'Put them in your churches, have the children put little offerings on them.'” The Seventh-Day Adventists' standard day for worship services is Saturday, and they will not meet on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year. “Every sabbath is special,” Pastor Fortune said, “and in our perspective that's the seventh day, not the first.”

Pastor Fortune said that Christmas is "of pagan origin, but so are bridges, stained glass, days of the week. I don't really understand Christians that come to me and say, 'Well, you know, Christmas, we shouldn't celebrate' when there's more people thinking about Christ at this time of the year, whether they know him or not, than any other time of the year—and they have no problem driving over bridges and using the days of the week and even worshiping in places with stained glass.”

Pastor Fortune's church has a service today at 11 a.m. “We've got all the decorations going, but we also have a special offering as well. During the month of December we have a third offering.” Those funds collected go for “Holy Cows,” Pastor Fortune said, to an Adventists agency in Vietnam that gives a cow to a blind person who rents it out for farming. “So far we've collected enough for three cows; that's an example of how we try take Christmas and make it meaningful and good, and make it about giving and not getting.”

The Parkwood Avenue SDA Temple, 2200 Parkwood Ave., also has an 11 a.m. service today, and plans prayer meetings Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Wednesday at noon.

The Jehovah's Witnesses don't observe Christmas at all. “A lot of people think that we don't celebrate Christmas because we don't believe in Jesus Christ, but that's false. We do believe in Jesus Christ,” said Mark Smith, coordinator of the body of elders at the West English congtregation, which meets Sundays at 3:30 p.m. at 139 Richards Rd. “Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Christmas because it's a man-made tradition.” Rather than celebrating birthdays—even their own birth anniversaries—Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate the memorial of Jesus' death. Mr. Smith said, “Jesus said, 'Celebrate, memorialize, my death' because that is the most important thing for mankind.” As well, Jehovah's Witnesses mark wedding anniversaries. “Who performed the first wedding? Jehovah did. So it's a divinely originated arrangement, the marriage arrangement. So on my anniversary I go and I do something nice for my wife,” Mr. Smith said. And his son is included in the family's anniversary celebration.

Though Jehovah's Witnesses don't give Christmas presents, Mr. Smith quoted his parents, who said, “You don't have to look for one day to get somebody something. If you love them, you can give it to them anytime.” He added, “Could there possibly be some kids that grew up as Witnesses that were disgruntled about it? I'm sure there are, but for the majority, it's not like that.”

Mr. Fortune, while noting that extravagance about presents varies in families, said that he emphasizes a moderate approach. In his family, three gifts go to each person because scripture says the baby Jesus received three gifts. “After you chip in for Holy Cows and for some other stuff, it all adds up, and I like this way of doing it better,” he said. “If Americans spend $450 billion at Christmas giving each other presents but we could put a well in every single place on earth that doesn't have water for $150 billion, that means just the Christians in America, at just Christmas, could solve water shortages around the world.”

The Christian Science, Jehovah's Witness, and Seventh-day Adventist denominations all began in the U.S. in the 19th century, as did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which makes a very big deal of Christmas and celebrating the birth of Jesus. That church has its Christmas celebration tomorrow so families can be together on Dec. 24 and 25; many Mormons also try to help others during the season. The church in Perrysburg has its Christmas program with music Sunday at 10 a.m. at 11050 Avenue Rd., and services in Toledo at 1545 Eastgate Rd. are at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Contact TK Barger @ tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.



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