|The Flowers at our first annual "Healing the Holidays" service|
We are getting close now. Christmas Eve is just around the corner. Like many congregations we have two services. The first is at 5pm and features child musicians and readers. The 7pm also has some child readers but is usually quite a bit quieter. Both end the same way. Carols are sung and candles are lit. It is pretty and will be just as "Chrismassy" as it always is, even in the midst of the monsoon scheduled for the holiday.
However, we have had some other moments in our congregation that have brought out that same spirit. Advent services have been well-attended. The annual pageant was a particular highlight. Also, over the past couple of days we participated in two extra-curricular events that are important ones for our congregation.
The first of these is a new tradition. Donna Vuilleumier, our Affiliated Minister whose regular ministry is in hospice, officiated a "Healing the Holidays" service for those people who were experiencing a sense of loss of emptiness during this time. We were a small group, but a good one. I knew all of them. Stephen, Donna, Rebecca, John, Lori, Sue, and myself were all that could make it. But it was important. We are a community that cares for each other. We reach out both in times of celebration and in times of grief.
The other was our annual caroling trip to the local hospital. We have been doing this for around six years. It was started by my then-assistant Matthew Carriker. He has moved on but the tradition continues with his various successors doing much of the planning. Each year we look forward to it. We mess around with the caroling books (our original list didn't have enough "secular" carols). We recruit pretty much the same kids to play instruments. Basically we carve out the time and count the days.
Then we hustle to the hospital to sing. People show up straight from work in their office clothes. My son rushed there with his uke in between track practice and his band concert. Others have a more leisurely approach. Someone (I don't know who and it may be more than one someone) makes sure we have enough Santa hats.
We have been doing this long enough that I, at least, can mark the time by noting who has shown up on which year. Who will be back next year? Who will only now be missed and remembered? As someone whose profession takes him to the hospital, I also remember my visits there without the carolers. Friends and congregants who have stayed their and recovered. Some, too, who did not. The kids get bigger, we get older. There are new folks who arrive and family visitors from out of town. "That was the year when..."
This event matters. It matters as much to those of us who participate as to those we are there to help. It helps us define who we are as a community that is there for each other as well as for the world. On Sunday after church, an older member of the congregation took my arm to tell me that she still remembers the time when we visited her in the hospital and sang as one of her favorite holiday memories. She cannot make it to caroling herself but the fact we do it still brings her joy. This is wonderful. As with the Healing service, we do what we do for those present and those not present.
To me this is Christmas. The other stuff is nice, too. However, in the end the best of the holiday is about building community and demonstrating our love and caring for others. Maybe the stress of the season even helps us in a weird way. It makes us mindful of how everyone is doing. It makes us aware that each of us is struggling against the powers and that together we can create something beautiful.