Bishop Johnson and Cabinet at First UMC Lancaster's Anchorage Breakfast Program

Churches celebrate Advent, Christmas in many ways

By John W. Coleman

It’s beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas. Not so much from the wintry weather arriving this weekend, but from the Advent activities happening all over the Eastern PA Conference. From hanging of the greens nearly everywhere, to a free Christmas community meal and movie night at Jarrettown UMC (Dec. 17), to La Posada celebrations at Lehman and Arch Street UMCs (Dec. 16), to Conshohocken UMC’s annual Christmas Village with caroling and a live Nativity at its Jillian’s Café (Dec. 22-23).

Many planned activities are found on our website’s Advent, Christmas, New Year’s page. If yours is not listed there, please e-mail your church’s event information to communications@epaumc.org or use our Submit News page. And please send us good photos of your events, so we can share them with our readers.

Nativity program at First UMC Phoenixville

Nativity program at First UMC Phoenixville

There have been live Nativities, with animals and costumed performers, happening across the conference, and more are on the way. And there have been, and will be: concerts, caroling and cantatas; Christmas pageants; Advent worship and Bible studies; community feasts; Angel Tree gifts shared with children of incarcerated parents; and more gifts collected, wrapped and sent to neighbors in need.

Nativity program at First UMC Phoenixville

Nativity program at First UMC Phoenixville

Grove UMC in West Chester will present its youth choir performing special holiday music Dec. 17 at Exton’s Barnes & Noble bookstore, and then follow with a Quiet Christmas Service Dec. 21, offering a gentle refuge from the busyness of the season with candlelight, music and prayer. Royersford UMC’s Parish Nurses will host one of several Blue Christmas services (Dec. 20) in our area, for people dealing with sadness during the holiday season because of recent events or lingering memories.

The Southwest District is collecting 1,000 Christmas Bags of Cheer, needed items for the neighbors who start their days with a hot meal provided by First UMC Lancaster’s Anchorage Breakfast Program. They still need 1800 pairs of white socks and 300 Christmas and New Year’s cards before the bags are distributed there Dec. 21-23. Bishop Peggy Johnson and her Cabinet helped serve breakfast there recently for their annual Advent Day of Service. (Last year, they visited female inmates at a correctional facility in Chester.)

West Lawn UMC Christmas Program

West Lawn UMC Christmas Program

The LanChester Cluster UM Men continued its generous Christmas tradition of delivering toys and other presents to pre-school children and to women in transitional housing at Methodist Services in Philadelphia (formerly the Methodist Home for Children). Men and women from six churches brought truckloads of cheer there Dec. 8 and were treated to a tour of the facilities.

Casa del Pueblo, the Latino ministry sponsored by Lehman UMC in Hatboro, will host its first Posada/Parranda celebration on Friday, Dec. 16, a combination of Mexican and Puerto Rican Christmas traditions that celebrate the night Joseph and Mary arrived at the inn seeking a place to give birth to the Christ child. The Rev. Lillian Cotto, Casa’s missionary pastor, will first conduct a worship service (5 PM), featuring music played by students of the ministry’s new music education ministry, Anawim. Then they will enjoy ponche and tamales and try to break open a piñata full of children’s gifts.

Las PosadasArch Street UMC in Philadelphia will also host a celebration of Las Posadas on Friday, Dec. 16, (6-8 PM), with its co-sponsor, JUNTOS, an immigration rights organization. The event has timely, strategic significance for the congregation and community because “we will highlight the offering of Sanctuary to our brother and friend Javier Flores Garcia,” said the Rev. Robin Hynicka, senior pastor.

The word “posada” means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish. Posadas are celebrated Dec. 16-24, when families participate in nightly Christmas processions that re-create the Holy Pilgrimage of Mary, Joseph and their unborn baby Jesus on their way to Bethlehem.  The celebration begins with a procession in which the participants hold candles inside paper lampshades and sing Christmas carols. The procession makes its way to a different home each night, where a special song (“La Cancion Para Pedir Posada”) is sung.

Upon arrival people in the procession ask the residents for shelter through a song.  Those outside the house sing the part of Joseph asking for shelter, and the residents inside respond by singing the part of the innkeeper saying that there is no room. The song switches back and forth a few times until finally the innkeeper decides to let them in. The hosts open the door and everyone goes inside.

Once inside the house, hospitality is celebrated and the festivities begin with a short Bible reading and prayer. Then the hosts give the guests food, usually tamales and a hot drink such as ponche or atole. The guests then break open piñatas and the children are given candy.

AdventCandleLightingLongDistance

Grove UMC Advent candle lighting by participants near and far

Finally, Christmas for many people is about making the journey home or finding ways to connect over long-distance when one can’t be there. During worship at Grove UMC recently three women came forward to light the Advent candle. Suddenly, Celeste Montgomery pulled out her cellphone and called the church’s Lay Leader, Penny Zimmerman, who happened to be in Shangai, China, on a six-month work assignment.

Celeste held a microphone close to the phone as Penny read the scripture for the candle lighting. The other women read their parts and lit the candle. “I thought it was a creative use of technology to remain connected to our sister who was on the other side of the globe and to have her participate in the service,” said Conference Lay Leader David Koch, who sent us the photograph.

Later that day, Koch reported, Grove held its Christmas pageant with over 30 children participating, including the daughter of the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Southeast District Superintendent. Taylor-Storm was in Nashville to attend a meeting. So, her husband, Dan, connected with her via video chat using FaceTime, so she could see at least some of the pageant. “Another use of technology to keep us connected,” said Koch.