Congregation celebrating Christmas Eve together
With Christmas falling on Monday this year, many churches in the Newberg area are foregoing their regular Sunday worship services in favor of the traditional Christmas Eve services in the evening.
That's normally what Joyful Servant Lutheran Church would do, except that the congregation has been sharing its facility with Newberg Emerging Friends Church, which holds its regular Sunday worship at 5 p.m.
The main tenet of the agreement to share the space was that neither church would impinge upon the other's Sunday worship space, according to Joyful Servant Pastor Kim Hester, so church leaders had to find a solution for Christmas Eve.
Considering both groups prefer to think of each other as partners, as opposed to landlord or renter, the situation seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate the growing relationship by hosting a pair of joint Christmas Eve services at 5 and 7 p.m.
"The partnership has been wonderful," NEFC Co-Pastor Steve Fawver said. "It's been very encouraging and so wonderful to have this community just be open and caring and really give us a place to land as we left Newberg Friends and then for new folks that have been a part. It's been very beautiful and very moving for us as community."
Once it was decided to go in that direction, the task became figuring out what a joint service would look like and how to accommodate the needs and traditions of both congregations.
"It's been interesting to kind of work through and process what does this look like and what is it that truly binds us together beyond our differences," Hester said. "We're excited about for who and what Christmas Eve is going to look like."
Many elements of the two services will be the same and were easy to collaborate on, like music, as NEFC worship pastor Nolan Staples will lead a joint choir and musical group, but Hester said the 5 p.m. service will "lean toward" the Friends community and the 7 p.m. to the Lutheran congregation.
Fawver and Hester will share in many of the prayers and speaking duties for both services, but split up the sermons, with Fawver preaching at the first service and Hester at the second. Fawver and Hester will do a joint reading as candles are lit for the singing of "Silent Night," which will close the service.
The main difference that had to be worked out ended up being communion, which is considered a sacrament in the Lutheran tradition. Quakers, on the other hand, have not traditionally celebrated communion or any sacraments for several reasons, including its history of abstinence from alcohol and an egalitarian approach to ministry.
"I think the biggest thing that we had to first process was both of us understand this is God's gift to us and so all are welcome," Hester said. "Wherever you fall on whatever belief spectrum, this is God's gift to you. I think that's been kind of the theological crunch, trying to figure out what that looks like."
Fawver said there was a willingness on both sides to meet in the middle in most cases, which made it easy to let Joyful Servant take the lead on communion and have the Friends congregation just be a part of it.
"We have people who are new to church or are coming from a lot of different backgrounds, so finding a new way to worship for folks is not a huge thing for us," Fawver said. "I think if we had said to them, 'We have to do it our way,' that would have been more challenging. For us it's pretty simple to meet them in that. That's an important part of their worship, a real high value that they have. It's honoring one another in that sense."
Although the two congregations co-hosted a performance by the Community Christmas Cantata on Saturday, the Christmas Eve services will be the first official function with both sides are fully participating. The two churches also updated and extended their rental agreement, which initially ran from August through December, for another year and are exploring further joint ventures and activities moving forward.
"The facility has been wonderful and they have been very gracious in that," Fawver said.
Hester added that Joyful Servant has not only been happy to host NEFC and build up the partnership, but has also benefitted from it because it has forced the congregation to think about how and why it does the things the way it does.
"I hear often that it's such a gift that Joyful Servant has done this, and it is, but it's a gift on the other side, too, because we are growing and being enriched by our relationship," she said. "That's been the added joy."