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Some churches not taking holiday this holy Sunday

December 22, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY

marlob@herald-mail.com

While many area churches are having elaborate and traditional Christmas Eve observances, few are using that as a reason not to have a service on Christmas Day, which falls on Sunday this year.

"Not have a Christmas Day service? That is absurd," said the Rev. Ken Valentine of John Wesley United Methodist Church on North Potomac Street in Hagerstown. "No good Methodist minister would let an offering go by."

There will be a 10:30 a.m. service at the church Christmas Day, but Sunday school will not be held, Valentine said.

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Some large churches around the country have decided not to hold worship services on Christmas Day, a move that is generating controversy among evangelical Christians at a time when many conservative groups are battling to "put Christ back in Christmas."

Some megachurch leaders say the decision is in keeping with their innovative and "family-friendly" approach, and that they are compensating in other ways.

Real Life Community Church at Mulberry and Antietam streets in Hagerstown will have a 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service followed by an 11 p.m. service. A Christmas Day service will be skipped this year.

"We presented it to the elders," Pastor Jim Chevalier said. "Some wanted to keep a Sunday service, while others felt it was family time."

Blaine Feightner, pastor of Mount Zion Lutheran Church on North Locust Grove Road at Md. 67 south of Boonsboro, said eliminating a Sunday service on Christmas Day wasn't even discussed at his church.

"It will be low attendance, but there is a core group who will come," Feightner said.

Scott Bellows, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown, said his congregation has adapted the Sunday lineup to one service instead of two and no Christian education.

"It's a family day," Bellows said.

At St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Williamsport, Pastor Mark Sandell said the Christmas Day service will be scaled back.

"It was never a matter of will we have a service on Sunday," Sandell said.

There will be a service at 10 a.m. and no Sunday school or choir. Sandell said he won't be robed during the informal service, which will feature a lot of hymn singing.

"It will be like we walked into your living room," he said.

Helen Steiner Smith of Benevola United Methodist Church in Boonsboro said Christmas Day is one when all should be in church.

"We are only having one service at 9 a.m., with lessons and carols and special music," she said.

The uproar is not only over closing churches on Christmas Day, because some evangelical churches have done that in recent years and made Christmas Eve the big draw, without attracting much criticism.

What some consider the larger problem is canceling services on a Sunday, which most Christian churches consider the Lord's day, when communal worship is an obligation.

For years, many mainline Protestant churches have been half empty - or worse - on Christmas Day. The churches' emphasis has been instead on the days leading up to Christmas, with Christmas Eve attracting the most worshipers. Some of the megachurches closing on Christmas this year have increased the number of services in the days before.

But for the vast majority of churches, closing on Christmas would be unthinkable.

Valentine said he is committed to keeping the Sunday service at his church.

"I'll be tired, but I'll be there," Valentine said.

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