Timing of Christmas Eve Services

Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
edited December 2018 in Ecclesiantics
I've mentioned already (on All Saints) my misgivings at the timing of Christmas Eve services.

At Our Place (backstreet A-C parish), we have the Crib Service (with scratch Nativity Play) at 5pm, and 'Midnight Mass' at 1145pm. The latter timing is in deference to our Madam Sacristan, who insists that the Gospel (the Johannine Prologue) be read at midnight, perhaps as though there is some extra Auncient Magick Out Of Time with it being read then.

Now, the Crib Service is reasonably well-attended, but Midnight Mass is increasingly less well-attended - we had a few visitors last night, but only a handful of our own 'regulars'.

AIUI, quite a few churches find that a 'First Mass (or whatever) of Christmas' at about 8pm on Christmas Eve works well, as it's not too late for older folk, and still allows others to get to the Pub well before closing-time. I intend to raise this with our PCC and new priest in due course, but would like to hear of others' thoughts and experiences - good or bad! We would probably need to bring the Crib Service earlier, say to 3pm, in line with our Carol Service, if only to allow a bit more time between services for the Ministry Team.

Yesterday's Crib Service attendance was well down on last year's, as indeed was Midnight Mass, and, as there seems to be a trend here, it's time to have a revaluation IMHO.

BTW, this isn't just about numbers, and bums-on-pews, but how effectively we can proclaim the Christmas message to our parish. The old ways are not now necessarily the best!

Comments

  • Here the Crib Service is at 5pm, following on from the Rotary Carols on the Green, so people can attend both and many do go from one to the other, then home for Christmas Eve.

    The Midnight Mass service is 11:30pm. I didn't get to it to see what the attendance was this year; it has traditionally been the busy service, but weather dependent. One of the other churches in the team has an 8pm First Mass of Christmas, which the first time happened as they drew the short straw to provide Christmas services at too many churches without enough clergy, but it worked so well for them that they have chosen to keep it. The 8am BCP on Christmas Day was pulled some time ago, but there is a family friendly morning service.

    The Nine Lessons and Carols service here is held at 6pm on Advent 4 - whenever that is, part of the 6pm sequence which includes an Advent Ring service on the first Sunday of Advent. Other churches in the team hold their Carol Services on different Sundays, depending on school links and other local conditions.

    The Christingle Service is held some time in early to mid December, varying around the Christmas Market and Tree Festival (which are linked), as the monthly family friendly non-Eucharistic service. This year it was the 9:30am on 16 December, which is late.
  • DavidDavid Shipmate
    I bumped into my friend Anna as we were walking to Ely cathedral this morning for Mass. She’s on placement in a village near Cambridge, about 20 miles away, though we live just round the corner from one another in Ely. Anna said that the vicar, her, and the lay preacher had advertised, prepared, and turned up for a crib service yesterday at 4pm to which not one single person had turned up. No one at all.

    I think it’s high time to restore the "church ale".
  • We had around 30 at 9 lessons and carols, I'm afraid I skipped the watchnight service as I have a toddler and there is only so much sleep deprivation I am willing to endure for a non-eucharistic service.
  • Moving on to today, we attended a village
    “ Festival church “which only has services four times a year, today’s being family worship at 11 am. There were only four people from the village, with no children. The other 20 or so people were from neighbouring villages, this being the only morning service in a group in an interregnum. Apparently they normally get about 50, including several families with children, so they were disappointed, having made a real effort to decorate and heat the lovely building for the occasion.
  • O dear. How distressing to plan and advertise a service with no-one turning up....
    :cold_sweat:

    A year or so ago, it was reported that Christmas church service attendances (not just C of E) were increasing, though perhaps that is still so in some cases....

    IMHO it's worth trying an earlier 'First Mass of Christmas', and after last night's rather dismal affair (so I am told - alas, I was one of several absent due to illness), even Madam Sacristan agrees.

    All services - Sunday or seasonal - are subject to fluctuation, of course, depending on weather, holidays etc. etc. On one Christmas morning a few years ago, the expected 15-20 had become 50+ by the time of the Gospel reading!
    :astonished:
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    I’ve noticed a steady decline in the numbers attending the midnight service, along with a great increase in those attending the 3.30 Christingle service.

    This year our carol service (6.00 on Sunday) saw a 300% increase on anything we’ve seen in recent years. I’m inclined to put it down to the way the holiday has fallen this year. This morning (10.00) was about the same, perhaps a little down, and only about 10 children.

    There are some things I want to think about further in the light of the experience, and particularly the midnight for which we are no longer able to raise a choir.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Another difficulty with midnight Mass is if you don't drive, you may need to take the bus, and buses where I am stop running from 8pm Christmas Eve until Boxing Day. And even if there is a church in walking distance, it's a bit of an unsafe time to be walking in the dark.
  • Hello, long term lurker had to join for this discussion. I am a clergy spouse from a land down under. We have changed our service times over the last few years and have noticed a huge difference. We have 2centres, 8km, apart, one bigger, one very small. We now have an outdoor Messy Church style service with jumping castle and Nativity ect and BBQ at 5-7, then a midnight style service at 8pm, both at the larger centre on Christmas Eve. Then Christmas Monring at 9am , communion service at the smaller centre. We have found that 8pm is much better than midnight, especially for the "mature " driver, some of our folk bring grandchildren etc to the afternoon and stay. We have found this pattern appeals both to our congregation and to visitors.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    We have found that 8 pm is much better than midnight, especially for the "mature " driver.
    Agree. We're not a large church and our tradition doesn't really include a midnight "Mass", however we used to have a 10 pm Communion service. This got changed to 8 pm a few years ago with beneficial results. We also have a 9.30 am service on Christmas Day, very much aimed at families - many families get up early on the Day and this gives times to go visiting or start cooking. Some folk came to both services; but a surprisingly large family contingent came to the evening Communion. I think attendances this year were skewed by having three "service" days in a row. Last year was better as Christmas Eve was a Sunday and we only had the 8 pm service that day. I suspect that things may be a bit different in the Anglican/RC traditions, and perhaps in rural areas too.

  • We have found that 8 pm is much better than midnight, especially for the "mature " driver.
    Agree. We're not a large church and our tradition doesn't really include a midnight "Mass", however we used to have a 10 pm Communion service. This got changed to 8 pm a few years ago with beneficial results. We also have a 9.30 am service on Christmas Day, very much aimed at families - many families get up early on the Day and this gives times to go visiting or start cooking. Some folk came to both services; but a surprisingly large family contingent came to the evening Communion. I think attendances this year were skewed by having three "service" days in a row. Last year was better as Christmas Eve was a Sunday and we only had the 8 pm service that day. I suspect that things may be a bit different in the Anglican/RC traditions, and perhaps in rural areas too.

    Certainly in multi-church C of E benefices one might find services at various times during the afternoon and evening of the Eve.

    Last year, with Christmas Eve on the Sunday, we had a said Mass for Advent 4 at our usual time of 1030am, the Crib Service (well-attended) at 5pm, and Midnight Mass at 1145pm - which made a long day for the Ministry Team - followed by another Mass with Carols at 1030am on Christmas Day.

    At least this year there was a breathing-space between Sunday and the Christmas Eve services, but people are raising some interesting points for consideration. BTW, I see that our incoming priest's previous parish had its Christmas Eve Mass at 930pm...but that might simply be due to the need to import a priest from somewhere else!

  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    I think the questions one should ask (apart from practical ones such as availability of personnel) are: what is best/required/preferred for "the usual faithful"; and what might be best for folk who don't normally attend church but want to come at Christmas? Those questions don't just refer to service times but also their style, format and content - what the faithful want may of course clash with what visitors are seeking!
  • Agreed.but given that three groups of churches surrounding us are in interregnum, and even when they are not, for so many churches in multi- church benefited or groups, it is a case of when they can be fitted in.
    For those in a more privileged position, I agree. Carol services, crib services, christingle etc would seem to cater for those who only come at Christmas, and are ever popular. Cathedrals attract a good congregation at all types of service at this season, whereas a single parish church should indeed make sure it provides for its faithful congregants at a suitable time, and if that is 8pm, then so be it. I know very few people now who insist on making their communion actually on 25th Dec.
  • Puzzler wrote: »
    Carol services, crib services, christingle etc would seem to cater for those who only come at Christmas, and are ever popular.
    Which then begs the question of whether we are "pandering to a consumer market" or seeking to make a meaningful and enduring spiritual connection with these folk? In other words, how can we make our Christmas services a real "way in" to faith rather than simply endorsing a vague "Christmas spirit" sentimentality? (Not quite the question raised in the OP, I realise).

  • 'Midnight Communion' at my church starts at 11pm and personally (though I guess I'm in a very small minority here) I would prefer 11:30pm as it was in my previous church, therefore ensuring that it is actually Christmas Day when we finish. This year the service ended a couple of minutes short of midnight. (Not really sure why that matters so much to me, but it does :smile:)
    fineline wrote: »
    Another difficulty with midnight Mass is if you don't drive, you may need to take the bus, and buses where I am stop running from 8pm Christmas Eve until Boxing Day. And even if there is a church in walking distance, it's a bit of an unsafe time to be walking in the dark.
    @fineline , I don't drive either, but luckily a lot of buses here were still running after midnight so I avoided the 30 minute walk home. I understand that getting home late at night can be a real problem for people who don't drive and aren't able or don't want to walk. Personally I like being out after dark and it wouldn't have worried me if I'd had to walk home, but I know most people don't feel the same.
  • The village church which started running 8pm First Mass of Christmas Service is some distance from the village, down a twisty busy road without pavements. There are footpaths across the fields, but at this time of year they are muddy.

    The church that has kept the 11:30pm Midnight Mass is in the middle of town, with pubs nearby for people to roll out of into church, and walk home.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Nuthatch wrote: »
    'Midnight Communion' at my church starts at 11pm and personally (though I guess I'm in a very small minority here) I would prefer 11:30pm as it was in my previous church, therefore ensuring that it is actually Christmas Day when we finish. This year the service ended a couple of minutes short of midnight. (Not really sure why that matters so much to me, but it does :smile:)
    fineline wrote: »
    Another difficulty with midnight Mass is if you don't drive, you may need to take the bus, and buses where I am stop running from 8pm Christmas Eve until Boxing Day. And even if there is a church in walking distance, it's a bit of an unsafe time to be walking in the dark.
    @fineline , I don't drive either, but luckily a lot of buses here were still running after midnight so I avoided the 30 minute walk home. I understand that getting home late at night can be a real problem for people who don't drive and aren't able or don't want to walk. Personally I like being out after dark and it wouldn't have worried me if I'd had to walk home, but I know most people don't feel the same.

    That's good you had buses. I was wondering as I posted if other areas have later buses.

    To me, walking somewhere very late at night depends on the area - the church within twenty minute walking distance of me is in a bit of a rough area, and the route there is sometimes quite isolated, and also not well lit, so I wouldn't feel safe. There's another church, a different route, along a main road, which would have been safer and in theory I'd be okay with it, but it's an hour walk, a lot of uphill parts. I don't think I feel enthusiastic enough about Midnight Mass to walk two hours late at night in the cold and the rain. I stayed home and listened to the Kings College choir on my iPad. :smile:
  • No late buses in our town (well, very few), especially on Christmas Eve, and, from anecdotal evidence, most of those who do turn up either walk (we are, geographically, a very small and compact parish), or come by car (and I know from experience how generous our peeps are in offering and providing lifts).

    My point was simply this. If (as I'm sure we do!) we wish to share the message of the Incarnation with our parish/neighbours, then we might have to re-think our ways of doing it, and, if that means changing time-honoured Hours of Service laid down by the Law of the Medes and the Persians (which altereth not), then so be it.

  • My point was simply this. If (as I'm sure we do!) we wish to share the message of the Incarnation with our parish/neighbours, then we might have to re-think our ways of doing it, and, if that means changing time-honoured Hours of Service laid down by the Law of the Medes and the Persians (which altereth not), then so be it.
    This. But that may well involve more than just changing the timetable.

  • Indeed it may!
  • I am nodding vigorously in agreement with the previous 2 posts and also the point of how we cater to both the regulars and the outsiders. I would be interested to ascertain if we do see any "fruit" from the visitors who come each year. In my experience we have several who visit every year for their annual whatever, and despite our best efforts ,think they have "done God" for the year. We have had a couple join us after coming to us because the Baptists didn't do Christmas the way they wanted and our music was softer and, in our previous parish, others who joined us after an annual visit and discovering we had children coming, so theirs were welcome. This is not to undermine the importance and joy of sharing the news of the coming of Christ, proclaiming Christ has come, but just a thought on are we making the most of this news inhow we proclaim it.
  • I think it's interesting that the Service of Lessons and Carols, which has very much become a "tradition" that can be - dare I say? - somewhat ossified and lacking in spiritual challenge, was in its day very much a "fresh expression" with outreach in mind: https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/nov/29/truro-nine-lessons-carols-christmas-history.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    Well, we've tried to 'update' our Carol Service a bit by including a brief homily after the final reading (we only have 6), which is the Johannine Prologue, accompanied by our customary Gospel Alleluias, and a modicum of incense.

    We also interpolate two or three 'choir' items, rendered by our organist/pianist, and a small group of singers recruited for the occasion from our Usual Suspects (we do this on other major Holydays, like Easter and Pentecost).

    My feeling is that we could enlarge on this by perhaps including our local primary school choir (it's not a church school, but it's they who have offered ), and perhaps other 'community' involvement.

    Well, we have plenty of time to consider these matters, as our incoming priest will doubtless wish to do in due course!
  • I believe that the vital element is for the community of faith to be able to celebrate and to be seen doing so. I see this as at least a potential solution for the massive difficulty of being hectoring (for those of a liberal persuasion) and smug (for the conservatively minded). I suppose what I mean is that the group that's most attractive to join is the one that's simply doing its thing. Trying to second guess what potential new members want leads to all kinds of misery for everyone. Current members feel unnourished, unvalued and even discounted, while visitors feel as if they are under a very hot spotlight,being asked to respond to things they don't understand and for which they have no criteria for evaluation. It's a hugely difficult process, but expecting festivals to be a catalyst for growth seems to me to miss the point spectacularly.
  • Well, we've tried to 'update' our Carol Service a bit by including a brief homily after the final reading (we only have 6), which is the Johannine Prologue, accompanied by our customary Gospel Alleluias, and a modicum of incense.
    The organist at My Last Place was incensed (ha!) with me because I dared to introduce a brief homily and a couple of reflective poems into our service (we had 7 Lessons, by the way). His view was that the carols, hymns and readings spoke for themselves, while mine was that they had become over-familiar and simply "flowed over" people (he also, let's be honest, didn't want the Minister fiddling with what he regarded as "his" service). Generally however my innovations were well-received in the church.

  • A good friend who ministers in a rural parish in western NSW and currently has oversight of a neighbouring parish has been conducting Christmas services in tiny rural churches across the two parishes since December 9. Enormous distances between centres in some of our remote parishes make the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day pattern impossible.
  • Well, quite.

    It must be difficult indeed, but I guess as long as each Advent/pre-Christmas service includes some element of 'waiting' or 'expectation' (e.g. a suitable Advent hymn, and/or the Advent Collect), then the Liturgical Police Wot Lurk In The Shadows might be appeased...

    It doesn't do to be too precious about Advent/Christmas, IMHO.
  • Wot, are you saying that "O come, O come Immanuel", "Adam lay y-bounden" and "Of the Father's heart begotten" are optional - not to mention "In Dulci Jubilo" by Bach at the end of the Service of Lessons & Carols?
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    Well, not quite - would that we had the musical resources to render 'Adam lay y-bounden', and 'In Dulci Jubilo' (by Bach)!

    We had 'O come, O come Immanuel' on Advent 3, and IIRC we have 'Of the Father's love begotten' this coming Sunday, so we are not altogether ready to yet be consigned to Nether Hell.

    I think (and hope).

    Actually.my Fellow Reader (wot chooses the Ims) was almost consigned to Nether Hell by our resident Mr. and Mrs. Glum for choosing 'For Mary, Mother of the Lord, God's Holy Name be praised' for Midnight Mass, despite its appropriateness.

    Well, it's not exactly a well-known Christmas Carol, so I sympathise to a degree.....

    YMMV, but The Glums have an annoying habit of objecting to every Im they don't know, without bothering to take the opportunity to (a) meditate on the words, and/or (b) learn them....
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    Well, not quite - would that we had the musical resources to render 'Adam lay y-bounden', and 'In Dulci Jubilo' (by Bach)!

    We had 'O come, O come Immanuel' on Advent 3, and IIRC we have 'Of the Father's love begotten' this coming Sunday, so we are not altogether ready to yet be consigned to Nether Hell.
    I hope you realise that I was Not Exactly Being Serious ...

  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    O yes - but, alas, these Serious Questions do arise, at least in the minds of The Glums (who really need to relax a bit......)!

    Now that I come to think of it, some Christmas ALE might help.
    :wink:
  • I'm mostly accustomed to Midnight Mass starting at 11:30. On moving to this part of Canada (semi-rural, close to a city), we had it at 11:00. I was told this was too late. This year it was at 10:00, but numbers were still poor. Am beginning to think that 8:00 might have to be considered, even though it goes against the grain and I would face severe opposition from Mrs Teasdale. But the reality is that almost everyone has to drive to get to the church and they really don't like coming out late at night.

    Our Nativity Service (non-Eucharistic) does well at 4:30. I faced a lot of flak over it initially, as people wanted it later (6pm). But I think that I have shown that it works where it is and in its present simple, free-wheeling, interactive format.

    But the "traditional" later service worries me. What was once a service to fill the church is rapidly declining. Could 8pm be the way to go or should we simply accept that the appeal of such a service is now fading, regardless of when we hold it?

    If we do go for 8pm, it certainly can't be "Midnight Mass". "First Mass/Communion of Christmas" is more accurate but hardly a snappy title. Are there any other suggestions on how to market this kind of service?
  • We Jokingly refer to is as Midnight in New Zealand (as we are roughly 3or so hours behind them time wise. The sign out the front says Traditional service including communion. RufusT Firefly, we had exactly the same thought and it has worked for us.
  • We have, since time immemorial (at least 4 decades), had two services on Christmas Eve—5:00 and 11:00. Traditionally, the 11:00 service was the best attended, while the 5:00 service was the service for families with young kids. Choir at 11:00, no choir at 5:00. The 11:00 service was a Eucharist, while the 5:00 was not. Instead, it was a Love Feast. This was because at the time, children who were not yet confirmed could not take Communion.

    But that rule changed in the 80s, and Love Feasts are labor intensive preparation-wise. So the 5:00 became a Eucharist as well.

    Fast forward to now. The 5:00 service is the big service. The church is packed, with generations of families (including the children of now-grown kids who went to that service years ago) and with some visitors. I think I counted, and heard, 5 or 6 babies. This year, it was billed as a “festival service,” even though there is still no choir. People linger afterwards a visit, before heading on to Christmas Eve dinners.

    Meanwhile, the 11:00 service has shrunk. This year, a sanctuary that can seat 350+ (not counting the choir) had around 55 people (including the choir, which includes me). A handful of us had been at the 5:30 service as well; I was the only one from my immediate family there at 11:00. I saw at least 10 visitors I did not recognize at all, but because of the preference for silence afterward, and of getting my choir robe off, I have no clue who they were or why they came.

    The 11:00 service still matters to some people, so we don’t give it up. It meets a need and has value. But it’s clear that the congregation’s momentum is behind the 5:00 service. For the first time that I can recall, the possibility of having the choir at that service as well was raised. But the reality is that those of us in the choir who attend that service want to sit with our families, and the choir remained a distinguishing feature of the 11:00 service.

    Times change. What works in one stage of a congregation’s life may not work as well at another stage. We make the best choices we can. If it doesn’t work, there’s always next year.

  • john holdingjohn holding Ecclesiantics Host, Mystery Worshipper Host
    I'm just past 70 and can remember when the very first Christmas Eve midnight services started to appear in WInnipeg (except at the single AC parish). That would have been in the late 1950s. Probably earlier in more AC areas and in Toronto. Midnight services have just about disappeared now (again, except in AC parishes), at least so I observe from different parts of the country, for a variety of reasons. In very few places do people live within walking distance of the church, with snow and ice almost certain to be coating the sidewalks except in southern BC. Older congregations mean people do not want to be out after dark, and certainly not late at night. Public transit, even when the routes run near to the church, ends between 11 and 12 pm. And no-one will bring children under 12 to a midnight service -- instead, they'll just not go at all. (Because, to my regret, almost no-one will contemplate attending a Christmas morning service.)

    I see a lot of 7 or 8 pm services, and I suppose a few 10 services are around.

    For the first time ever, we tried a family service at 4 on the Eve. It was a resounding success ( a somewhat stripped down eucharist) with nearly as many people as we get at our SUnday morning service -- but with all the families with young children, none of whom have attended or will attend either our 7 pm service or CHristmas morning. About 30-35 under 10s. The evening service was much as before -- a full church but no added chairs needed, so roughly twice as many people (but all of them much larger than the rugrats).

  • May I enquire as to what a "love feast" is, @Nick Tamen ?
  • Our Christmas morning is growing and growing, almost the opposite of what @john holding experiences. But the ageing congregation thing regarding late night services is a real challenge. For a few years now one of my churches has had the local people outnumbered by a bus party from one of the local hotels. This year, I gather (I was officiating I. Another building at the time) the bus party were mainly on walking frames, so even older than the locals! Next Christmas (say it ever so softly) I may bring the two current midnight services to 9 p.m., which is after hotel evening meals and after Santa and his reindeer have been through the village. That would free me for a midnight at the third church I will have taken on during 2019.
  • Climacus wrote: »
    May I enquire as to what a "love feast" is, @Nick Tamen ?

    ...and whether I'm the only one on here who always mentally hears those words being said in a Barry White voice? ;)
  • Oops. I meant to provide a link (and had I done so, I would have been reminded that the Moravians spell it as one word):

    Moravian Lovefeasts.

    The epicenter of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church is nearby, and Moravian influence is seen in many ways around here.

    A highlight (to me) of a traditional Moravian Christmas Lovefeast: ”Morning Star.” As in this video, the solo lines are traditionally sung by a child or a few children. The candles they’re holding would be these. These are also frequently seen around here at Christmas.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Ha ha Albertus!

    Thanks Nick. Very interesting.
  • When I read up on the origins of the Christingle, the Moravian church celebrations were referenced - those candles and the red ribbons seem to be part of the idea that has been adopted.
Sign In or Register to comment.