A Little White Church Christmas
As we approach Christmas Eve, hear the stories of God incarnate working in and among the people of the little white church nestled in a village in Upstate New York. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during Donna Frischknecht’s time serving as minister of a historic white clapboard church right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.
We had just finished singing “Silent Night.” The Christmas Eve service was soon to be over and I felt like a child who had just opened the last of her Christmas presents. I was still overjoyed and excited, but I didn’t want the magic of the night to end.
I wanted more of this holy night. I wanted more of the beautiful circle of light embracing the sanctuary of the little white church. (For more on the circle of light, read Day 21 of a “Little White Church Advent”.) I wanted more of the beaming faces I saw illuminated by the candles they held.
We were done singing and the echo of the last note slowly vanished into heaven. I was not ready to put this gift away and give the benediction. And so I stood there.
We stood there. Together. Light shining brightly not from candles quickly burning down and dripping wax onto the carpeted floor, but the light of Christ shining brightly from our hearts.
There we stood. Finally I spoke.
“This is a beautiful sight. Christ’s light shining from you all. Take a moment to notice this gift before you,” I said, “For this moment is a gift.”
And it was.
The gifts of silence and candlelight were being given to us, allowing the depth of meaning of this night to enter into our hearts.
I just didn’t want to rush Christmas Eve for I knew after the candles were blown out and the sanctuary lights went back on, the flurry of holiday excitement would kick back into high speed.
I knew for some gathered in the sanctuary there were more relatives to visit after the church service. For others there were late suppers to feast on. For still others there were overly excited children to wrangle into their pajamas, get the plate of cookies and glass of cold milk ready for Santa, before finally getting them to bed. For me there was a glass of eggnog and pickled herring waiting at home, a combination that my husband still does not understand or partakes of.
Yes, soon the candles would be blown out and for me my treasured Christmas Eve tradition at the white church would begin.
The last person would say good night and “Merry Christmas” to me. I would then walk back into an empty sanctuary to my office to get take off my clergy robe and get my boots and coat on.
As I walked down the aisle I would notice how the sanctuary looked like a Christmas hangover—bulletins strewn onto the floor, candy cane wrappers left on the cushions and the stray glove or mitten homeless till next Sunday when its owners would claim them.
With my coat and boots finally on, I would take one last look around the sanctuary and kitchen and bathrooms and fellowship hall to make sure all lights were off, all candles extinguished and all doors locked.
Once outside, I would notice the last light flickering from the candles in the luminaries on the steps of the old church. I would then stand there in the silence of the night and look up at the stars and wonder.
Who on this holy night left this little white church with the gift of Christ born again in his or her heart?
For all too quickly after a silent night the frenzy of the world kicks into high speed and we forget each moment is a gift from God. It is a gift not to waste by worrying or rushing, but a gift to slow down and notice God’s light is always shining in the darkness.
I would stand on the old church steps in the silence of the night, breathe in the night air and allow the light from the stars to lead me in the true celebration of Christmas.
The candles burned brightly in the sanctuary, but the light of Christ shone even brighter. The Christmas Eve service was just about over.
It was time to give the benediction I came upon the first year I was a pastor. It was one I have always loved. I lifted my candle and I said to all gathered:
May the joy of the angels,
The eagerness of the shepherds,
The perseverance of the wise men,
The obedience of Joseph and Mary,
And the peace of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas;
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with your always.
The candles went out in the sanctuary, but the light of Christ went back out into the village, out to the farms, and all throughout the fields and rolling hills and mountain views in which the little white church has stood for many a Christmas as a beacon of hope and a witness of a faith—and which will stand for many more Christmases to come.
From the Accidental Country Pastor:
Thank you for joining me on this “A Little White Church Advent and Christmas” journey. May you have a blessed Christmas and may your remember you are the light of Christ our world needs. Let the light shine where you are now and forevermore.
Accidental Country Pastor will return with more stories of faith and more beautiful God moments January 1, 2016.
Blessings, Pastor Donna