By: Scott Taylor
Christmas Eve was always a wonderful time in the home of my childhood. While more recent Christmas Eves have become defined by a multiplicity of worship service obligations, this was not always the case. As a Baptist, we never had services on this day: I understood this to be because our focus should be on our nuclear family. Whatever the reason, I never complained.
Each year, we would gather with my father’s family for a large meal complete with the unique traditions of our family: Beef Tenderloin, Shrimp and Grits, Pies, Cakes, etc. I loved this meal and have often imagined its reproductions in heaven. After dinner gifts would be exchanged – though not quickly enough for the children. After gifts, we would retire to our homes filled with food, sugar, and the anticipations of the next day. Once home, a fire would be built and all would find their spots in beds or couches or chairs and quickly sink to sleep. All, that is, except for me and mom.
Around the age of 13, I began to ask my mom if we could go to a Christmas Eve service at Centenary UMC in Winston-Salem. I had never seen such a beautiful church before – it was so different from the industrial-style sanctuary of my home church. I had never heard such a beautiful church choir before. I had never sung all the verses to almost any hymn before. I had never taken communion like that before. I had never heard a sermon less than 30 minutes long before. To say the Methodist church was different, would be a gross understatement. I cannot really speak to my mother’s impressions of the services, but year after year we would make our way to Centenary UMC or St. Paul’s Episcopal Church while the rest of the family dreamed about their sugar-plums.
Little did my mother or I know how these yearly trips to this church where I was a total stranger would impinge upon my life’s path. Little did the people at Centenary and St. Paul’s guess that they were ministering to a strange little Baptist kid who didn’t even know what he was looking for. Little did folks like Rev. Michael Brown or David Pegg know what their sermons and choir anthems meant to these two people who got to hear them only once a year. Little did I know. Little do I know still. How often do we stop to consider the ministry of worship?
A moment ago, while I was writing the third paragraph, my eyes filled with tears. They are filling up again now. I lost my mom 4 years ago this February and I miss her. Christmas Eve was our thing: just the two of us. But it was so much more. Christmas Eve was my mother’s willingness to grant to me what is honestly a strange Christmas wish – to go to church. Christmas Eve was that strange church’s welcome to the both of us, strangers, as we sang songs and passed communion goblets. Christmas Eve was the beginnings of a strange calling that I still hear when we gather for the ministry of worship each week.
I thank God for the ministry of worship and the many miracles, mostly unknown, that happen when two or three are gathered.