Time for Covenant Ministry Again? …Let’s Begin with the 5 pm Service on Christmas Eve

Time for Covenant Ministry Again? …Let’s Begin with the 5 pm Service on Christmas Eve

Who remembers Covenant Ministry? 

It was what we did when I first arrived at Old First. It was way back in 2009, so many of you were not here yet, or may not remember. 

But back then our numbers were down after a difficult period in our congregational life (people wander away and get lost so easily from modern church life!). So we got INTENTIONAL about reaching out to and inviting in new folks. Actually, we identified four groups of people we thought that “the gifts and graces” of this congregation could best serve …and then tried to develop our traditions for them. 

Covenant Ministry was a bit more complicated, because we committed to making our church more visible, open, accessible and welcoming  by encouraging our people, our ministries, our fellowship and governing groups to undertake INNOVATIONS designed for each of the groups we were targeting: families with children, young adults, queer folks, and people who had been let down by the church (either in their experience or in their perceptions).  

It has occurred to me that at this point in the pandemic, it’s probably time to try something similar again. Our situation is very different now, but it is – for different reasons – probably again a good time to become INTENTIONAL about reaching new people. (Of course, we will need to discuss and decide anything like this as a congregation.) 

But it occurs to me: Back in 2009–2012, Old First showed itself to be surprisingly adept at change (especially for a church!). Imagine how much easier it might be for us now after the pandemic made us (forced us!) to be more dynamic, flexible and spontaneous.  

And I want us to try this out with the Christmas Eve 5 pm Service. Before the pandemic shutdown, it was unquestionably our annual service that welcomed the most visitors. One year, we had over 200 worshipers – mostly families we didn’t know – following Mary and Joseph around the neighborhood looking for “room at the Inn.” Admittedly, the Creche as a drawing card made it an easier and perhaps more attractive invite. 

But the ministry of the Creche was to make sure that “the holy story” was part of people’s Christmas celebrations. And I think it was quite effective. Otherwise, it’s so easy in our time and place for families to celebrate a completely secular Christmas. (I experienced this for the first time two years ago with my friend Isa’s family.) With a barnyard of animals and some human figures, we offered parents and grandparents the prompt to tell children about Jesus. Couldn’t the 5 pm service serve a similar purpose? 

Think about it – it’s an early, outdoor service that works well for a virus-conscious. And there’s the donkey. And a real baby Jesus. 

Last year we learned how to share the lyrics on our smart phones, and now we’re comfortable with the LOOP bulletins. We did allof our Christmas service outside last year. 

I’d like to start the 5 pm Family Service this year in the Sanctuary, where Bill can begin playing Christmas carols on the organ at 4:30, while we gather. 

In the Sanctuary also, we can give people more of a sense of our church and its beauty. There we also can collect people’s contact information and take up and offering, and more easily give out instructions. 

When we get back from our search for “room at the inn,” and we find that the Church has “room for all’ and then baby Jesus arrives, I’m thinking we end with hot chocolate and cascarones. 

What? Well, everyone loves cascarones. And they are Mexican as is the whole Las Posades service we are adapting. And if on Easter cascarones symbolize Jesus bursting forth from the tomb, I think we can make them meaningful at Christmas as he comes forth from the womb… 

The trick of course is getting our invitation out. I am going to ask help from all our families with young children, of course. They have organized audiences in daycare and nurseries and grad schools. 

But, it also occurs to me, I know people with kids, even if my children aren’t anywhere close to being young anymore! We all know kids. 

I’m going to ask the Steiners and the Grosses if they can ask their neighbors in Ann’s Choice and Maris Grove if they have grandchildren who might enjoy joining us. And I want to ask the rest of us to think about young families we might invite to this service.

And if you want to come because you have invited others, know that you really can grab dinner in Chinatown or Old City between our 5 pm and our 8 pm services!

There might even be more, since I just started thinking about all this this morning! It’s a work in progress. If you have ideas, please share them with me. I’m sure it’s a  good chance for this church to make sure that Christmas isn’t only wrapped presents, trees and Santa. There’s gotta be a little room for baby Jesus and his story too. 

Look for a picturesque and informative flyer in a special e-mail early next week. Then you can get inviting people for us. 

We’re also going to create a special Facebook event that will showcase the same images and offer the same explanation. I hope you all will share that on your FB pages as part of how we advertise and invite to the 5 pm Family Service. 

We got work to do and people to welcome and serve,