Tuesday, December 27, 2016

We Go to Church in California

First Presbyterian Church, Santa Rosa
An old show biz adage is “Don’t work with children or animals” for fear of being upstaged and shown up. Fortunately, God doesn’t have such worries. Both kids and critters were in abundance at the 5:00 pm Christmas Eve service at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa.


Traditionally, there are three Christmas Eve services at 1st Pres -- as there were this year -- but usually there is a 11:00 pm service. Not this year, though. Christmas day fell on Sunday, so the latest Christmas Eve service was at 9:00 pm; there was another at 7:00 pm.


The 5:00 pm service, though, is designed for the whole family, particularly families with small children. As Pastor Dale Flowers said in his introduction to the service, “Kids, tonight’s service is a little different. If your parents make noise or want to move around, that’s okay. This is the night they can do those things.”


There were plenty of kids present for the service, with many of them participating in the service. (We arrived early, when a number of children were also arriving. One boy ran ahead of his parents shouting, “Guys! Guys! I’m going into the church!”) Before the service costumed kids were running about just a little wildly.


In Dale’s introduction, he mentioned a newscaster he’d heard who offered a strange wish to his viewers, “For those of you with a religious bent, celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, have a blessed holiday. For the rest of you, have a good weekend!”


The children presented a paraphrased version of the Christmas story. When a little boy Joseph heard the news of Jesus’ coming, he had a most excellent Kevin from Home Alone look of surprise with wide eyes and hands on his cheeks. Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem in a Radio Flyer wagon, and they were greeted with a “Welcome to Bethlehem!” sign. Some kids were dressed as animals at the manger and the shepherds were dressed as cowboys (don’t ask me to explain why).  One of the kids dressed as the Star that led the Magi. The Magi brought the Baby, stuffed animals and a toy truck. All of the kids were able to exclaim that it was “The Best Night Ever!”


Brenna Hesch, the church’s associate pastor, came forward to give the message, saying, “After that I don’t know if I need to say more…” But pastors, even when they say that, usually do say more. (Which was fine, since Brenna’s homily was also fine.)


She spoke of being in Europe and seeing refugees flooding the continent. When she returned to the States, the needs of those people was replaced in her mind by “wedding planning, a new job and Rogue One.”  She drew a parallel between the refugees and the shepherds of Luke 2. She went on to talk about the need to care for people who are different than us, and illustrated the point by showing the Apple commercial featuring Frankenstein’s Monster (with the slogan, “Open Your Heart to Everyone”).


At the family Christmas Eve worship service, the church has a tradition of a slide show to introduce the babies who were born that year. This year, two babies on the screen were daughters of my nieces, so it was an even more adorable presentation than usual.


We sang “Joy to the World” for the closing carol.  (We’ve sung this song a couple of times with the were “men” in the line “Let men their songs employed” changed to “us”. It works grammatically, but if the word must be changed, I’d prefer letting “all” employ their songs.)


living nativity with newborn lambs at First Presbyterian Church Santa Rosa 2016
As the service ended, we were dismissed to go outside for hot chocolate and cookies and a live manger scene. Along with people portraying Mary and Joseph and the wise men, there were a variety of animals. There was a cow, a chicken, and various sheep, with a few lambs 1 to 5 days old. Christmas doesn’t dodge animals and children. It brings them to center stage -- especially the Baby.


The next day we went to the one Christmas Sunday service at 10:00 am. (Usually 1st Pres has three Sunday morning services, but the crowd does tend to thin when Christmas falls on a Sunday.)


The Sunday morning service began with the singing of carols, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” followed by “The First Nowell” (I do not know why “Nowell” was used instead of the more common “Noel”).


While Pastor Hesch’s message the night before focused on the shepherds of Luke 2, Senior Pastor Dale Flowers’ message focused on the Magi of Matthew 2. He told about a time when he served as missionary in a poor community in the Philippines. While he was there, a seminary friend sent him a very fancy pair of Nikes. Initially he thought such a costly gift was wildly inappropriate, but he came to see it as gift of love. When he wore the shoes and jogged through the streets, his students jokingly called him “the rich young ruler.” He made a comparison to the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that might have seemed inappropriate for a baby, but perhaps financed the young family’s trip to Egypt.


The service again concluded with “Joy to the World” as people returned to their family celebrations.


There are a number of reasons It seemed right to worship at First Presbyterian in the last state in our fifty state trek. Mindy and I often attended the Christmas Eve services in the church during our years in Sonoma County. We’ve attended a number of weddings at the church, including weddings of family members, and we’ve attended memorial services including those of my (Dean’s) parents. It’s also the church I was baptized in as an infant and the church I attended as a child. I would, on occasion run wild in the hallways of the church, because it goes without saying that God is not afraid of being upstaged by children and small animals. He delights in them.  


Statistics
Santa Rosa First Presbyterian Church, 5:00 pm Christmas Eve, 10:00 am Christmas Day
Service Length: 45 minutes, 43 minutes
Sermon Length: 11 minutes, 16 minutes
Visitor Treatment: welcome in bulletin and from pulpit, greeting time early in worship service, card to register attendance was mentioned at the Sunday morning service but not the Christmas Eve service.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none personal email from church finance coordinator on Wednesday
Our Rough Count: 256, 153
Probable Ushers’ Count: 275, 160
Snacks: water for hot chocolate or cider, cookies (on Christmas Eve). Nothing on Christmas Day
Musicians: Christmas Eve
Piano (man)
Vocals (2 women)
Drums (man)
Electric guitar (man)
Christmas Day
Choir (8 men, 7 women)
Praise team vocalists (2 men, 2 women)
Piano (woman)
Organ (woman)
Songs: Christmas Eve
“Angels We Have Heard on High”
“Come All ye Faithful”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
“Do you Hear What I Hear?”
“Away in a Manger”
“Joy to the World”
Christmas Day
“Come All ye Faithful”
“The First Nowell”
“We Bring His Light” (choir anthem)
“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”
“Joseph Dear, O Joseph Mine” (organ offertory)
“Joy to the World”
Miles to Church: 1


Healdsburg Community Church, 7:00 pm Christmas Eve
Service Length: 52
Sermon Length: 10
Visitor Treatment: Welcome to all, encouragement to fill out friendship register, greeting time near beginning of service
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 185
Probable Ushers’ Count: 210
Snacks: coffee, tea, hot cider, cookies, cheeses, fudge, candies, fruit
Musicians: Electric bass (man)
Acoustic guitars (2 men)
Piano (man and woman)
Electric guitar (man)
Trumpet (man)
English horn (man)
Flute (woman)
vocals (man, two women)
Songs: “He Shall Reign Forevermore” (worship team alone)
“Come All Ye Faithful”
“Joy to the World”
“What Child is This?”
“Silent Night”
"There is a Redeemer" (trio, a cappella)
Miles to Church: 17
Miles from Start: 46,921
Total 2016 Miles: 46,635