December 2011. I'm not sure that everything I talk about here is as true for me as it was then, since I'm serving in a bigger church with a little more responsibilities and events this time of year. But I hope that I and those I serve are still able to find time to slow down and enjoy the season.
I'm going to let everyone in on a little secret. This secret varies from church to church and from pastor to pastor, but I wonder if it generally isn't true for most pastors of most churches my size.
Ready? Here it is: December is one of the slowest months of the year for me as a pastor.
A lot of people, even some other pastors, assume that due to the activities of Advent and Christmas, pastors are just completely frazzled during the month of December. The assumption is that we're running around, constantly coordinating and calling and organizing and making sure everything is lined up in just the right way to ensure the perfect season for our members.
Nope. Our church has a Christmas program and two extra worship services, and that's about it. I do take great care to plan what I need to plan and lead what I need to lead, but this month does not feature the whirlwind of holiday chaos around the church that people think it does. In fact, now that this weekend has passed, I actually experience an incredible dropoff in activity.
No committees other than our governing board want to meet. What do we really have to do that can't wait until January? Who wants to meet with the pastor while they're busy lining up their own holiday plans? Only a couple fellowship groups forge on with their usual meeting plans this month. Basically, because people are trying to handle their own stuff at home and at work (I've already been to two Christmas parties through Coffeewife's job), they don't want to (or simply can't) devote as much time to the church this month.
Sometimes the best act of ministry is not acting.
It actually works out for me as well: it allows me to handle my own shopping and whatnot, but also because it allows me to take in the quiet of the decorated sanctuary without feeling much of a need to rush to much of anything.
For this reason, I've come to like our Blue Christmas service, which was held this past Sunday evening. For those who are unfamiliar, Blue Christmas (sometimes called a Longest Night service) is a time for those who don't find the holiday season to be joyful for one reason or another. It's a chance for people to come and be quiet for a while, taking a break from the season's busyness.
I started it shortly after I began here, and I think attendance peaked at around 20 people a couple years ago. We had 14 on Sunday. My earlier reaction would have been to despair at how big of a failure this service is and wonder why more don't come. This year, I was content to just sit and be quiet myself, relishing my first opportunity to sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and the low impact nature of the entire service: the expectations seem low, and it's just a matter of letting the songs and words take the lead and not to force anything.
After the service, an even smaller handful of us gathered for some fellowship time, content to munch on cookies and make small talk about mutual friends. A few of the older ladies tried to set up another young man with their granddaughters. We shared concerns about another member's barn burning down. We laughed and made new acquaintances and didn't move too fast doing any of it.
Believe it or not, this season does have more than one speed. I know, I saw it happen on Sunday. We don't need a service for that: it'd be ironic to have to schedule something in order to remind people to slow down. But if that's what it takes, then so be it.