Advice To a Pastor On Her First Christmas Eve

Get to the church early. Attend to as many details as possible, with as big a smile on your face as is genuinely possible, and spread good cheer. You are making magic tonight, but don’t rely on God or Santa Claus to take care of the details. Make sure that you and your worship aids know when the lights go down during “Silent Night.” Give the participants an opportunity to rehearse. Print your benediction in big enough font so that you can read it by candlelight.

Don’t drone in the pulpit. You are not a history professor explaining events of long ago. You are a person of faith, sharing miracles that live on today in every act of love and mercy. Don’t explain faith; give them your faith. Every reading should be dynamic enough to make people forget that they’ve heard this story 100 times before.

Sing all the carols with all your heart.

Eat some protein before the service and keep a big glass of water in the pulpit (and a lozenge, too). Take a walk today and breathe deep. You’re going to need a big voice later, so breathe way down into your diaphragm, nice and easy. If you have a nervous stomach, a bowl of soup and half an Imodium might be a good idea.

Let nothing you dismay, even screaming babies. If you truly can’t hear yourself think (or speak), it’s fine to pause and to look with kindly concern at the parents of screamers. Ushers should be instructed to approach these poor, benumbed souls with an invitation to the crying room, “because your baby seems to be having such a tough time.” If the parents demur, at least you’ve taken a moment to clear your head so you can coherently continue.

Remember this:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

This is why I celebrate Christmas. Find your deepest, most personal reason to celebrate Christmas and bring it with you full force tonight. If you do that, not much else can go amiss. I promise.

God bless us, every one.

6 Replies to “Advice To a Pastor On Her First Christmas Eve”

  1. thanks PB, my sister was having her first night in charge of a service. i shared this with her, and she loved it.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. And if I may use the comments to climb on a bit of a soapbox here….Don’t let Christmas Eve children’s services (for those congregations that have them) become an excuse for sloppy liturgy. Yes the pageant portion is cute with all those cherubic faces and angel wings. The clergy however were not cute. Especially where the liturgy didn’t even come close to matching what the congregation had in the service bulletin. It was auto-pilot leadership in anticipation for the much larger, elaborate late p.m. Christmas Eve service. Not a lot of thought or preparation went into the clergy part of the kids service, because well, it’s almost too easy.

    The children and children’s ed staff did their job well, the clergy should have also.

    Sorry for the rant PB, I love Christmas Eve services at my church and was sorely disappointed that families and other congregants who couldn’t make the late service were short changed.
    C-

    [Not at all! This is an excellent, on-point rant and very helpful. What a shame!! – PB]

  3. for future reference, also remember to allow some quiet time during the service. Just let folks experience candlelight in the quiet. We hear from the Holy Spirit best in quiet moments.
    (Sadly, this Christmas Eve my senior pastor talked on and on during the lighting of candles and when we sang Silent Night, there had not been any silence at all!)
    [SUCH a good contribution. Thank you, Carol! – PB]

  4. Thank you for this, PB, even if in the craziness of everything I’ve found it almost a week after I led my first-ever Christmas Eve service. I wish some things had gone better (I didn’t arrive as early as I would’ve liked, the deacon in charge didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before the service began, and none of us had thought to assign light turner-offers for Silent Night), but in the end, I felt it went well. My message was short and from the heart, and when I felt the Spirit calling me me, I ditched my prepared words for the intro of the candle-lighting and just spoke, which actually had me crying as I stood on the chancel.

    As I was simply pulpit supply this year, I can only hope that my first Christmas Eve in “my own” parish goes so well. And I’ll be re-reading this advice beforehand!

  5. I love the way you write, PB. I’m working my way towards ordination but have put this info away in my mental filing cabinet to hopefully be used in the future!

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