UUCA Connections, our monthly newsletter, includes service descriptions, columns from the Minister, Board of Trustees President, the Director of Lifespan Religious Education and the Assistant Minister. It also includes upcoming events, timely articles, and one page that is devoted to our Earth & Social Justice Ministry discussions and program offerings. Read Rev. Mark Ward’s column below, or click here to read the entire newsletter, and get a better feel for our congregation and how you would fit in!
Our granddaughter Eliza announced the other day that she looked forward for the first time to taking part in our congregation’s Christmas pageant this year. It’s a holiday event that I know many people look forward to, but I thought it would be interesting for you to know that it’s a fairly recent tradition in our community. When I arrived here nearly 10 years ago, we already had the practice in place of holding two Christmas Eve services – one intended for families with young children and one mainly for adults – but there was no pageant reenacting the story of the Nativity. It was Taryn Strauss, our former Religious Education Director, who recommended some eight years ago that we begin the practice. Taryn had a strong background in theater and saw the idea of the Christmas play as a great way of engaging the children, and it’s been a hit ever since.
Still, the variation in our practices points to a quandary that inevitably arises this time of year: Since we’re not an avowedly Christian congregation, why are we celebrating Christmas? A place we begin is with history. Both strains of our heritage – Unitarian and Universalist – began as Christian denominations, and there are members of our movement, indeed members of this congregation, who identify their spirituality as Christian; that is, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus. Beyond that, many of the values that are at the center of our work as a congregation like love, compassion, peace, and justice, have their roots in a liberal Christian orientation to the world. It’s part of why we identify Jewish and Christian teachings as among the sources of our living tradition.
But even for those of us without affinity to the Christian message, the story of Jesus’s birth is one of the great world stories of hope and liberation. As the Unitarian educator Sophia Lyon Fahs says, it teaches that “each night a child is born is a holy night, a time for singing, a time for wondering, a time for worshipping.” And so we take time at Christmas to sing and wonder and worship.
Something else you should know from our history is that since the early 1800s Unitarians have been among the innovators in the celebration of Christmas. They were among those arguing for lightening the holiday up from what was a grim theology, making it a celebration of peace and good will. Charles Dickens, after all, was Unitarian, as were the writers of the carols “Jingle Bells,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
So, each year we look for new and innovative ways of celebrating the season, as you’ll see this year with a new version of our Christmas pageant organized by Benette Sherman, our Director of Lifespan Religious Education. Each year on Christmas Eve I enjoy both the excitement and enthusiasm of the early service and the meditative peace of the late service. I hope to see you there, and I wish you a warm holiday season however you may celebrate it.