When Church is Full of Strangers

blogI served a congregation in Our Nation’s Capital for many years and found Christmas Eve to be a disappointment in terms of what I’d experienced as a child.  Because almost everyone in the congregation was from Someplace Else [Note: most people who live in the DC area are not from the DC area] they returned home to Nebraska or Ohio or South Carolina for the holidays and so either the pews were semi-empty or they were filled with strangers visiting from out of town.

Unlike the Christmas Eve services throughout the nation, there was no children’s choir (they were all visiting grandparents in other states/countries), there was no adult choir (most of them were with their families of origins in the ‘home churches’) and there were no crowds.  I almost forgot was it was like to have full pews for Christmas.

Now I live in a small town south of Chicago where everyone comes home for Christmas and home is here.  On the fourth Sunday of Advent, there were two children’s choirs and two young adults (in high school or back from college) playing a viola duet.  The pews were packed and it’s not even Christmas Eve yet.  On Christmas Eve, there will be three services and all of them will be full.

But back to strangers.  No matter where we live, there will be “strangers” in our pews on Christmas Eve.  Maybe they’ll be the family members or the significant others of family members.  Maybe they’ll be people who walked in off the street curious about this cultural phenomenon called Lessons & Carols.  Maybe neighbors who ordinarily don’t do church will be invited for this one night, to be followed by eggnog back at the house.

But the most important people in the room on Christmas Eve will be The Strangers because Jesus was once The Stranger, so different from everybody else.  So strangely obedient to the Truth of the Gospel.  So unlike others in his own faith tradition.  If nothing else, Jesus taught us how to treat The Other.

Look out for the strangers on Christmas Eve.  If we don’t welcome them on Christmas Eve, we never will.

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7 responses to “When Church is Full of Strangers

  1. Churches at the beach are also full of strangers on Christmas Eve. Most of the congregation goes to families inland. The church is filled with folk who decide to gather at their beach homes and go to church at the little white church down the road for a good “old-fashioned” Christmas feel. We may never see them again, but we are filled with good cheer and always enjoy “welcoming the Stranger” to join us in celebrating the birth of our savior. I look forward to tomorrow night as the choir sings< "Were you there on that Christmas night?"

  2. Yes! Welcome the strangers on Christmas eve; it may be the only chance you have from them to know the hospitality of the community of Christ. And who knows what might happen when they return home, if they truly “get” the welcome you offer.

  3. Terrific post. A few years ago, a practicing Muslim came to our 7:30 pm Candlelight service and expressed later how moved he was by our worship. A few months ago, a new and small women-lead Islamic congregation met with our Session about using one of our rooms to meet and worship. They are not welcome by most mosques in Atlanta area and the ones that would take them are too far of a drive from Duluth area/Gwinnett county. One of the members of the Islamic congregation turned out to be the same man who came to that past Christmas eve service and he remembered the openness and hospitality of the church.

  4. nice note-

    we just did an 8 PM service for the first time– ( we’ve had a 5 and 11 PM service here for some time now)– and we had 89 mostly new, first timers here– I sure hope we welcomed them well!

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