This evening, during the singing of Hark the Herald Angels Sing at my church’s 5pm family service, while holding my infant in one arm and my 3 year-old in the other, I looked up toward the front of the church to see my wife, vested and leading worship. She looked back and smiled. My eyes began to water.
This is likely the last Christmas Eve that we will be together as a family for what might be a long while. Truth be told, my wife was up front, leading worship this year and last and not in the pew with us, but we were still together, celebrating together, at the same church, on more or less the same schedule. And even though we left Mommy at church to lead three more worship services, we were together on Christmas Eve, and it was special.
It was also a unique time for me and my girls to be and play together, to leave milk and cookies for Santa, and to celebrate the forth consecutive day of our three year-old’s successful potty use. Just like our Sunday morning routine, when my wife is at church for 6 hours, this Christmas Eve was a special time for me to be Daddy with my girls.
Next year I will be on internship, serving full-time in a congregation at least 30 minutes away from home. My wife will be at her church, and thus we will be in different houses of worship every Sunday and on those highest of holy days. Our girls will see even less of their parents on these days, and likely the milk-and-cookie rituals of Christmas Eve will be celebrated with grandparents or family friends. This breaks my heart.
I have loved, loved, loved taking my three year-old to church since shortly after she was born. I have insisted that she be in worship, to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christian worship. How else will she learn to worship? Bringing the children to worship has been more difficult since the birth of our second daughter, in large part because this birth took place after my wife was ordained and spending the good part of her Sundays behind the altar or in the pulpit rather than in the pew. So what was once a two parent vs. one child match-up in the church pew has turned into a two children vs. one parent match-up. This is a little more difficult to manage, particularly in a large congregation with a deeply traditional approach to worship.
But in recent weeks I’ve been doing it, sometimes with the help of the nursery or a church mother to keep an eye on one of the kids . . . And this brings me immense joy, knowing that we can worship together as a family and that my children can be surrounded by and participate in the Word of God proclaimed in word, song and ritual.
Next year will be a challenge. We’ll have to figure out a regular baby sitter on Sundays for the children, and a way for us to worship together at times (perhaps at one of the local church’s Saturday services). And we’ll also have to be intentional about having family time on other days of the week, to compensate for the disrupted family schedule on Sundays. And we’ll also have to be careful about tending to our family holiday celebrations, setting apart time on these days to be with each other, to create our sacred family time and space. Even though Christmas, Easter and every Sunday are work days for clergy, we will have to remember that they are also family days, times set aside for rest, times set aside to be with each other.
God grant us a blessed Christmas and guide us in our uncertain future.
A blessed Christmas to you all.