Advance Planning For Advent
By Fred Koenig
It’s hot outside, and there’s still more than a month of summer ahead. Even though back-to-school time is closing in, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad to begin to think about ... Advent. Some Missouri Conference pastors have shared things they’ve done in their church to honor traditions while keeping the season fresh and lively. So, turn up the air conditioning and envision things you could do when things are cooling down and speeding up at the end of the year.
Blue Springs UMC
Last year Rev. Sally Haynes at Blue Springs United Methodist Church used Marcia McFee’s “Angels Among Us #DoNotBeAfraid” worship services. McFee designs it from beginning to end.
“It does take a lot of prep and rehearsal, and it takes some pretty savvy music folks. But it doesn’t demand large-church resources if you don’t have them,” Haynes said. “It was very powerful throughout Advent. We got lots of positive responses. I especially appreciated it because, after 30-plus Advents and Christmas Eves, it can be difficult to get fresh ideas.”
Asbury UMC (Springfield)
During the November generosity campaign at Asbury UMC in Springfield, the church handed out Advent postcards to their congregation, encouraging them in radical hospitality to invite friends and family to upcoming special worship services. This gave people an easy way to reach out. The postcard was sharp looking and had a space for people to write a personal note.
“Because one of our generosity series Sunday themes is hospitality and inviting, I was able to teach and challenge people to step up their hospitality game,” Rev. Melissa Dodd said.
“During our Cantata and Christmas Eve evening services, I saw more people waiting in the foyer for friends or family they had invited to the service.”
At Huntsville UMC, Rev. Michael White did a sermon series in Advent based around Isaiah 9. The first week, Wonderful Counselor, he used counselors from the local community and church to emphasize the counselor concept. The second week, Mighty God, used Mighty Mouse graphics and the theme song “Here I come to Save the Day!” For the third week, Everlasting Father, the church had a Father’s Day in December service and emphasized the father concept of the Holy Trinity. The fourth week, Prince of Peace, spoke to how Jesus is the Prince of Peace who can bring peace into ourselves, families, communities and world.
The church went caroling every Sunday during Advent and took gifts to nursing homes, shut-ins, widows/widowers and new folk in the church. They did a version of an Angel Tree to help families in the community with food, gifts and clothes. Every Sunday there were quizzes to create an opportunity to learn more about Advent and Christmas.
At Neosho UMC, Rev. Mitch Jarvis has an early Christmas Eve service to accommodate seniors who don’t drive after dark and people who may be traveling to see family later that evening. “Sometimes we’ve included a light lunch at 11 a.m., followed by service at 1 p.m.,” Jarvis said.
Grace UMC (Jamestown) & Prairie Home UMC
At different locations in his ministry for the past 20 years, Rev. Bruce Jefferies has taken the time prior to Advent to write scripts for use at the Advent Wreath.
“Since the high days of Advent are so important, I have based these on Lectionary passages from the Revised Common Lectionary. I focus on either the readings from either Old Testament, Gospels or Epistles. I have utilized the Psalms as well,” he said.
Reflecting on issues that have been raised from the previous liturgical year, he writes a two-person dialogue, which fits on one piece of paper, and ends with prayers or hymns. He finds it works best when the same two people do all four Sundays, but that is difficult to accomplish around people’s holiday schedules. By writing in this way, he doesn’t rely on the common themes – faith, hope, joy, love.
“This helps me to focus on some common themes, and it becomes easier to connect this one component of the worship services with issues that the sermon text provides. And it allows me to be more creative,” Jefferies said. “I usually start writing these scripts in October (generally as I’m getting ready for Charge Conference). I begin with prayer; very quickly I find myself being drawn to the texts – reading and reflecting on all of the texts and events of the year.”
First UMC (Marshall)
There are skits. There are plays and Christmas pageants. Then, there is the Journey Through Bethlehem. The event is a joint project between First UMC (Marshall) and Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Marshall. The churches build a replica of what Bethlehem may have been like in First UMCs New Life Center. People can walk through and meet people who represent residents of the town. The living nativity is outside the doors to the New Life Center.
Last year 372 people attended on Friday and 316 on Saturday. It took about 100 volunteers to put on the event including set construction, painting, hospitality, tour guides and cast plus about 40 people donating cookies.
“I think one of the things I like best about doing the Journey is that our churches are working together to try and connect people to the story of Jesus,” Rev. Sandy Nenandal said.