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http://www.cjad.com/news/14/641051 (CJAD News)
Church leaders often spend weeks preparing for Christmas service message
Sun, 2007-12-23 21:21.
By: Elianna Lev , THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER - The mall isn't the only place that sees a boost in population over the holiday season.
Churches across the country typically see their attendance skyrocket over Christmas. Many of those attending are casual visitors, the ones who come only during the high holidays of Easter and Jesus' celebrated day of birth.
This fact isn't lost on church leaders, who say they often spend several weeks preparing for a message that will stay with the crowd attending for symbolic purposes.
Rev. Ed Hird with St. Simon's Anglican Church in North Vancouver takes the story of Jesus and tries to make it relevant and accessible to his patrons. He said it's important to remember that "Jesus is the reason for the season," and tries to communicate how his (birth) plays a part in everyone's life.
"I take the message of Jesus'birth and (show) how that could potentially impact all of our lives," he said. "I've seen many people who've turned up at Christmas, and that's been the turning point for them."
For Rev. Bruce Sanguin with the Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, Christmas is the one time when he's not "preaching to the converted." He said he's happy to see people taking the time to attend church, even if it's for a symbolic reason.
"A lot of people come for the tradition of it," he said. "They're coming to hear the old carols and the scripture reading and be in the candlelight and sing Silent Night. All of that is fine with me so it's not a time to preach a theologically heavy kind of sermon."
Darryl Macdonald, minister with Christ Church United of Two Mountains in Montreal, starts preparing for his service in September. By October, he meets with his church's worship committee and in November, they have an idea for themes for Advent and Christmas services. By December, the details are taken care of and hymns are chosen.
"What I tend to do is work mine together so that all four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Eve all tie in with the theme," he said. "That's why I have to start much, much, much earlier."
Hird and Sanguin said they both take several weeks to prepare for their Christmas message. Hird said he even tries to prepare physically, as in the past he's pushed himself so hard that he often became ill.
Now he gets a flu shot, goes to the gym and eats properly in the weeks before Christmas.
For Sanguin, he makes sure he takes the time to relax and think clearly.
"While the rest of the world is speeding up and making all the Christmas preparations, I find it important to slow down and take a countercultural approach," Sanguin said. "Make sure I'm doing the yoga and create a quiet space within where the Christmas story can come alive for me."
Right Rev. Sue Moxley, the bishop of the Anglican diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, said she went on a weeklong retreat to pray and think in silence as she prepared for the Christmas season.
In the weeks since, she's been preaching at holiday-themed services every Sunday, and she'll speak to her congregation in Halifax on Christmas Eve.
Moxley said she wants parishioners to remember that Christmas is not "just an old piece of history," especially if they only make it into the pews once a year for the holiday.
"The point I think is to make the connection that this is a very old story, and we change every year, new things happen to us, so we hear the old story in a different setting each year," she said.
"Out of that, there's always hope that comes out of the story, no matter what kind of situation we're in."