No Stress, No Fuss Christmas Pageant & Worship Part II

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2.1-3)

I believe one of the challenges of creating an intergenerational worship service is integrating worship elements that is inviting, adaptable, and approachable for all ages. The dangers of creating an “intergenerational” service is either making it too kid-friendly so that the message is dumbed down or throwing in too many creative elements (i.e. a skit, contemporary music, rituals, etc.) so that the service seems scattered and unfocused. Another danger, especially for more traditional worship styles, is eliminating the elements that are authentic to the make-up of the congregation and replacing them with elements that cry out “trying too hard.”

Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to let loose and be creative in worship. I believe there are some easy ways to create an integenerational worship service by following some simple guidelines:

  • Worship space: Most sanctuaries are not amenable to rearranging the pews or changing the layout of seating. But recently some broken pews gave St. John’s an opportunity to look at our layout and make it possible to move and rearrange the pews for different occasions and move them back for Sunday. This Sunday before Christmas was our first opportunity to move the seating. The plan was to pull the Steinway Grand piano into the center with the choir seated next it. Pews form a circle with pillows and coloring tables in the middle for kids to sit if they would like.
  • Food: Most sanctuaries have a “no food, no drink” policy, but honestly nothing is more welcoming and inviting than food and hot beverage. I understand the reason behind it is to preserve the sanctuary, but I equate the “no food, no drink” policy” to keeping plastic on the living room couches. Our sanctuary is over 100 years old and is considered an historic landmark and no crumb or coffee spill has been more powerful than the vacuum or a swipe of the paper towel. To play on the festive spirit, we are going to offer hot chocolate, chocolate sprinkles, marshmallows, candy canes, and other festive goodies for people to partake in during worship.
  • Music: This is probably self-explanatory. I won’t get into what kind of music makes a worship more intergenerational. I believe it is less about what type and more about what is authentic to the congregation. We have a famous Johnson organ and impressive lead professional singers in our choir, but what I love about the music at St. John’s is its versatility. This Sunday before Christmas we are leaving all the bells and whistles behind and simply going to have piano, djembe, and our voices.
  • Liturgy: Prayers and the order of worship are great ways to be creative. The goal is to have different entry points for all ages and needs to enter into worship. Are there places for the extroverts to express themselves in worship? Are there opportunities for the introverts to reflect in worship? Are there rituals that engages both kids and adults? Does worship give space for “restless parents with kids” as well as those who are mobility challenged?

Using these guidelines, I came up with the following intergenerational worship service that we did the Sunday before Christmas. During the service, there were different ornaments to decorate for the kids. It isn’t super duper creative or inventive. What I hope to convey is that sometimes all it takes is some simple liturgical elements to make all the difference for all ages to feel invited to participate in worship. What I hope this worship service will convey is people feeling like they are in their living room around a piano, hearing the story of the birth of Christ, having a chance to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s birth for them, and being able to worship together as a family — in blood, in faith, and in community. (You can see more pics here.)

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Sanctuary BEFORE


Sanctuary AFTER

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Choir sings a song about Mary: “There is No Rose” by Graham J. Ellis

Opening prayer telling the story about Mary and Elizabeth expecting. This is adapted from Children at Worship. Divide the congregation in half – one side is Mary and one side is Elizabeth.

Leader: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. (Luke 1.26)

Elizabeth: They say you should be careful what you pray for!

Mary: They say you should be careful what you pray for.

Elizabeth: For years we have prayed for a child, Zechariah and me.

Mary: For years, I have prayed for the deliverance of Israel. But I didn’t mean like this!

Elizabeth: I can’t be having a baby!

Mary: I’m hardly more than a baby myself, but this much I know: a girl can’t get pregnant without the help of a man.

Elizabeth: But here I am as certainly pregnant as anyone could be!

Mary: But here I am pregnant! What will people think?

Elizabeth: I know what they’ll think. “Elizabeth?! We thought she was too old!”

Mary: And the terrible things they’ll call me…

Elizabeth: Long have they called me barren! But God has remembered me and lifted my shame. The angel said – was there really an angel?

Mary: The angel said – was there really an angel?

Elizabeth: Gabriel was his name, and he said this child will be filled with God’s Spirit, even in my womb. He certainly is lively in there, and he’s filled me with such life. And hope. Hope for us all. His name will be John.

Mary: His name will be Jesus.

Elizabeth: He will be great, and will prepare the way for the Messiah!

Mary: He will be great, and save our people from their sins. But who will save me from the wrath of the rabbis?!

Elizabeth: I’ve always said, Lord, there’s nothing you can’t do!

Mary: I’ve always said there’s nothing you can’t do. So, please, Lord, help me now.

Elizabeth: I have to talk to someone!

Mary: What am I going to do? Who can I tell?

Elizabeth: He never was much of a talker, my Zechariah. But now he’s speechless. Claims he can’t talk. The angel made him mute. Likely story!

Mary: I must go and see my cousin. Only, please, Elizabeth, don’t condemn me!

Elizabeth: Mary! I could talk to her. She’s young and hasn’t waited so long! She probably believes in angels! Only, please, Mary, don’t laugh. But I want to laugh!

Mary: Yes, I can talk to her.

Elizabeth: And shout, and sing. I’d dance if I could!

Mary: Please, Elizabeth…

Elizabeth: Please, Mary…

Mary: I’m so afraid…

Elizabeth: Don’t laugh

Mary: Don’t condemn me.

Leader: She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true! (Luke 1.39-45)

As a sung affirmation or in place of the Gloria Patri: first verse ofO Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

As Mary and Elizabeth anticipate greeting each other: Passing of the Peace

The story of the birth of Christ is told by reading excerpts from “The First Miracle” by Jeff Archer. This is the story from the eyes of a young Roman who we discover is Pontius Pilate. The excerpts are divided into the sections with Advent and Christmas Hymns sung in between. One or multiple readers can be chosen to read each section.

First section: The Young Roman

Hymn: “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates”

Second section: A Bearded Man and a Fat Lady

The kids have been learning this song in Sunday School and will lead the congregation: “Mary Had a Baby”

Third section: The Filthy Barn

Hymn: “Away in the Manger”

Fourth section: Leaping Shepherds

This hymn is sung as a call and response where a lead singer leads the congregation: “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow”

Fifth section: The Magnificent Foreigners

Hymn: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

As a sermon or homily, I plan to read the end of the book where Pontius’ identity is revealed and then connect the story to the following ritual: The Miracle

In place of prayers of the people: Connecting to the Story (I got Magic Color Scratch Paper Chain Links from Oriental Trading Co. where I will ask them to take some time to quietly reflect on the story and write or draw a one-word miracle prayer, then link it with your neighbor’s chain link.)

As the “Magnificent Foreigners” offered gifts to baby Jesus: Tithes & Offerings, Announcements

As a combination of a replacement for the doxology and prayer of dedication, this prayer was written by Adam Copeland called “The God Who.” I inserted “O come, let us adore him…” as a sung response. (* replaced damn with darn)

Leader: The God who looks with favor on the lowly, a homeless man leaving a warm night shelter only to find a steady winter rain falling on the ambivalent city,

O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him

O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord! (sung response)

Leader: The God who has done great things, sending angels with pregnant messages to a withered woman, and later a message of “great joy” to an unwed teenager fearing for her life,

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God who gives mercy from generation to generation, forgiving our sins too numerous to count, blotting out our offenses no matter how heinous or small,

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God who shows strength with God’s arm, in the making of creation, in the sweet smell of the bread baked for communion, in the powerlessness of the shameful cross,

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God who scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts, throwing down politicians working for personal gain, shattering our pretense of humility, calling us to boast in the Lord alone,

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God who lifted up the lowly, a tiny shepherd who slay the Philistine giant with a strong faith and a love of neighbor, a young son wearing a torn fabled coat of many colors saves the nation from perishing,

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God who will feed the hungry at the heavenly banquet—filet mignon, enormous baked potato, no *darn broccoli, open bar, no hangovers—

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God who did not abandon Israel through the prophets and the patriarchs, Miriam’s joyful song, Amos’s harsh words, and David’s illicit sex,

O come, let us adore Him, . . .

Leader: The God of whom Mary sang—Magnificat—of whom Hannah sang before, the God of you and me is in this place. Look, listen, touch, taste, and smell, for God is here. Amen.

The kids will hang up the ornaments and collect the chain links to hang on the Christmas tree: Lighting of the Advent candle during Children’s Sermon

Hymn with joyful organ: “Joy to the World”

Benediction

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