Although different than past years, area churches still found ways to celebrate Christmas. First Baptist Church in Lenoir City got creative with the Christmas Eve Lord’s Supper in a virtual format.
“The answer around here was, ‘If we can’t do A, we’re going to find a B. If we can’t do B, we’re going to find a C’,” the Rev. John Hunn, church pastor, said. “There was never an option of not doing anything. I think that’s been a healthy attitude that I’ve been really happy that our staff has adopted, and so basically end of the year we knew we were going to do something. Sabrina (Stamper, FBC worship assistant) was up here earlier cutting out more Scripture cards. We just made the decision Saturday about going virtual through Jan. 3. ... Our numbers are over 200 right now, I think we’ve had over 200 people pick up bags, at least bags for enough for 200 people. Somebody might have gotten eight bags.”
Days leading up to the service, members were encouraged to stop by the church to pick up a brown bag filled with a miniature flashlight, Lord’s Supper elements, Scripture, a candy cane, a hot chocolate pack and information about the service.
The church distributed more than 500 bags, Hunn said.
“I mean when we have services here, this is one of our largest-attended services years past is the candlelight service, and so I think a lot of the community comes in for Christmas, and so it’s really hard to tell in that moment without going, ‘Yep, I know them. Yep’,” Stamper said. “It’s really hard to tell how much of the community has been here in the past, and so we’re hoping would be an opportunity for me to walk to my neighbor and say, ‘Hey, everything’s online right now but I just wanted to share Christmas with you and I hope you’ll join our service.’ I’m hoping that our church members will take them and invite others. Each one, reach one is what we’ve been kind of working with our church. If they would use this as an opportunity to each one, reach one.
“... This is just a way to try and get them as much as you can,” she added. “For one moment we’re all doing something together as a church family and as a community and what a better night than Christmas. This has been in the works for probably a month, maybe, to try to do this. We were thinking for the deacons and shut-ins and folks who have been home to just zip by and that’s what they’ve been doing. They’ll put their mask on, how many, and we’ll give them some. Or they’ll say, ‘My kids are coming in so can I get four?’”
The effort capped off a year that has FBC finding different ways to reach the community.
“Something of a tradition has been to take communion,” Hunn said. “There’s two key ordinances in the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s Supper is a community-wide, congregational-wide commitment. I address our online watchers as our online congregation, our online community, so we’re getting to know those folks. It’s like 250 people every Sunday. It’s a pretty growing number of people that at one time did not have a connection to our church. We’re just trying to be inclusive. There’s three words that I’ve been using a lot — one is prayerful, one is careful and the other is fearful. We want to be two of those. We want to be prayerful, we want to be careful. We don’t want to be fearful. I think that’s the governor’s message that faith leaders should be the calming influences in the communities, not the opposite.”
For those who could not drive by to pick up a bag, deacons and other church members delivered them personally.
“I’m a big believer to leave something tangible behind that once they take communion with us, they can put something on their fridge, put something on their table, put something on their Bible or their night stand, just a comforting Scripture,” Hunn said. “That’s what’s in there. I think for them what they care about most is not being forgotten, that they are remembered and that it’s not out of sight, out of mind. We’ve learned to do better. Shepherding is a huge commitment for us, so we’re learning how to shepherd better. Our staff is making more phone calls.”
Hunn said he was “disappointed” the church couldn’t hold a service in person.
Loudon United Methodist Church during the week leading up to Christmas Eve offered bags with candles outside the church for its virtual service.
“This has simplified it for us because the people who understand how to make a video on their smartphone have been able to send me some videos of them playing music,” the Rev. Amy Cook, church pastor, said. “I’ll be able to screen share in the Zoom and do that, and bless the elements and all that stuff that we do and still have us singing together and still have a gathering where we can talk back and forth, which is something we couldn’t do on the usual Facebook Live format.”
In years past, two Christmas Eve services have been held, but Cook said this year the decision was made to only host one. While everyone used Zoom, she and two musicians met at the church.
“We’re one of the few churches that does an 11 o’clock service and a lot of people who aren’t even members of our church show up for that one, so we needed to do something on Christmas Eve — not just for our membership but for our community and our neighborhood,” Cook said. “We wanted to be able to implement something that’s more interactive where we can see and hear each other in real time and I can incorporate some screen sharing with so I can use some of the musicians as well as we would have normally. That’s why we landed on Zoom. We haven’t been having been having full services in forever. We’ve had communion walkthrough and that’s it.
“... It’s starting to look a lot of like the first Christmas,” she added. “Away from home, not doing anything traditional. Christmas and Easter are our two biggest holidays in the year. We need to find some way to be the church in the middle of it, and it’s been such an important witness of that church through the years to have a Christmas Eve service and I couldn’t imagine us not doing something.”