How merry can your pastor's Christmas be?

"Are we having church on Christmas Day this year?" Such has been a constant question asked at my office door since Thanksgiving. The answer is an enthusiastic "yes, of course we are" (even if the music director and I are the only ones there).

By Elizabeth Evans Hagan

"Are we having church on Christmas Day this year?" Such has been a constant question asked at my office door since Thanksgiving. The answer is an enthusiastic "yes, of course we are" (even if the music director and I are the only ones there).

With Christmas falling on a Sunday this calendar year, thoughts of how to maintain both family traditions and faithfully attend to the worshipping life of one's local church have made planning for this week even more complicated than usual.

"When are we going to open presents?" "When will the family gather for dinner?" and "Can we really get up and out the door that early for church on Christmas morning?" have been topics of conversation among even the sparsest of church attendees.

But have you ever thought about how your pastor deals with such questions every December, and especially in this complicated year? How merry can your pastor's Christmas truly be with so many details to work out? While many sing about this being the "most wonderful time of the year," for clergy it is the busiest and most exhausting.

Four years ago, I married into a family well-steeped in their particular traditions: Christmas Eve was for turkey, opening presents as an immediate family and then waiting for Santa Claus to make his rounds for the youngest kids. Christmas Day was for ham, lounging in new pajamas, and driving to see Christmas lights around town. 

When our first December together rolled around, however, my husband and I shared the news of my duties on Christmas Eve. My in-laws graciously understood but had to rearrange their entire schedule to accommodate.

Now there is no long dinner on Christmas Eve. All the presents and festivities are packed into one day. There is no more sleeping in on Christmas morn for me, as I was soon introduced to the 6 a.m. Christmas morning flight, every pastor's friend. 

Sometimes I hear talk among the family about how much they miss the way Christmas used to be. While grateful for their support, I have to admit I share their nostalgia about Christmases past. Sometimes I miss the ease of Christmas before I became a reverend.

Of course I love my job and feel honored to serve my congregation each Sunday and especially on Christmas Eve, one of my favorite services of the year. Singing Silent Night to celebrate the Christ child with candles held high among a gathered community stirs my heart like none other. I wouldn't miss Christmas Eve -- or this year Christmas morning -- for anything.

That being true, I'm ever reminded of the sacrifice the pastoral vocational calling requires not only for ministers but by those who love us as well. It isn't easy being a pastor, and it isn’t easy being married or related to one. We really mess up Christmas plans.

So, non-clergy friends, as you decide whether to go to church this Christmas, when you sleep in and enjoy a day of rest or when you leave town mid-week, stop and consider your pastor whoever he or she may be.

Pray for peace in his or her family, just as you pray for your own. Consider coming in early to worship on Sunday morning to help out so that your pastor is not in your worship space alone. 

Above all, let the Spirit move you in worship this Christmas season. That will bring your pastor the greatest joy of all. Even if their family events are missed or altered significantly, they'll know that their church family was blessed.
 
This year, weather and flight schedules permitting, my husband I hope to be at Christmas night dinner right in the nick of time as both the ham and the turkey are served. Maybe, a couple days later, we'll see the Christmas lights in the neighborhood, too.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.