On the pilgrim way: Blessings in smaller numbers
The 2014 Christmas celebration at my local church (a unique mixture of party, witness, and worship) nearly did not happen. We used to have between 50 and 80 people of all ages attend, but times have changed. We announced that we needed 30 people to go ahead – yet, when we only had 20 confirm, we somehow could not bear to cancel. We followed the pattern of the past 30 years – yet it never felt like going through the motions or flogging a dead horse. Instead, there were so many special blessings just because we were such a small and intimate company.
Tony and Margaret (80-something) began the evening with readings about the 1914 Christmas truce and, more generally, about peace and war. Then we sang – in both German and English – Stille Nacht/Silent Night. As those soldiers ventured out of their trenches to proclaim the Christmas message, so we went out into the streets to sing carols. We were a small and far from young group – a “younger couple” in their 50s and the rest of us 70s and 80s – but we were so warmly received. A young woman with a baby in her arms and a child at her side opened wide her door, so pleased to receive “real carol singers”. Another woman excitedly held out her phone and asked us to sing for her dad. And as we sang in front of the church door, looking up at the flats opposite, a couple came out on their balcony and listened to us and waved.
Supper awaited us – Mary’s usual delicious salmon, homemade salads, Stan’s special mulled wine, and masses of wonderful puddings, this time with the addition of our new minister’s pavlova. We all sat together and lingered over the meal – another blessing of our small numbers. Clearing up was quickly done. We then adjourned to the other half of the hall for a hilarious five-minute Cinderella in which our “young couple”, Robert and Niamh (29/30?), had to play the Prince and Cinders. A silly game of musical islands followed with shrieks of laughter and then a Circassian Circle with everyone, including Charles at 94, on their feet and the younger element (ie under 60!) doing remarkable high kicks and dizzying spins.
Upstairs, in the beauty and quiet of our lovely church, all the reflection and singing and laughter and table fellowship of the evening was gathered up in carols and readings and prayers. In my mind’s eye, I saw the crowds of excited teenagers of past years sitting on the floor, and as Robert and Niamh lit the candles during “O little town of Bethlehem,” I knew Robert was remembering doing just that when he was a teenager. But, to my surprise, I did not feel sad or nostalgic – I just felt: “That was then, and this is now,” and that God has blessed another Christmas celebration. Thank you!
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the March 2015 edition of Reform.