A simplified Christmas service

A colleague — no names — asked around for ideas for a very simple Christmas service. Can’t help but oblige seeing as I’ve been there myself and — who are we kidding? — I love this stuff.

I’d have a reduced liturgy, described later, but having all the expected bits and concluded with a benediction. Twenty minutes, a half hours tops.

It should be solemnly joyous yet liturgically “vulgar”. That it, it should have little homespun, local touches and an ample amount of congregational participation, but with enough custom and direction to keep it from being a mess. The Thanksgiving harvest service in the form of a canned food offering is an example of this kind of action. If the congregation is small, shared “My Christmas prayer is . . . . ” might work, or setting up a creche at the beginning of the service, or a special exception to food in the meetinghouse (cookies!) passed out as people come in.

Ditch the usual sermon, too. Who has time to write something proper for the Christmas morning service anyway? Granted, I doubt the value of an original weekly sermon; rather I’d hear a really good one a third as often. There are a number of good, short Christmas meditations to fill that need. Does anyone have the citation for the Howard Thurman work from which the Singing the Living Tradition element was extracted? Do comment. If I find it first, I’ll append the citation to the bottom of this posting.

Then, take the “extra time” and sing, sing, sing. Either belly the congregation near a piano in the meetinghouse or adjourn to the parlor, but let people move or excuse themselves when the “proper service” is over.

Now that service. There’s a pretty good one in the old red Hymns of the Spirit, number twelve, but I’d strip out all the service music, the formal liturgical greetings (“The Lord be with you. . . .” etc.) and choose one, perhaps two of the collects (page 48) and never all of them.

It isn’t online but the related “red hymnal” service two is.

Morning prayer (lightened) from any number of sources would be a good alternative for non-Unitarian Universalists or those who can’t get the hymnal. The old 1960s Church of South India service number one is a robust place to start; I just discovered there was a 2004 revision which I shall investigate later.

If you have resources that would help, or directions that work, add them in the comments.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Oh, why bother with liturgy. Just cancel church on Christmas (even though it’s Sunday), like Willow Creek church does. No need to be liturgically creative, Scott. Just give people in the congregation a DVD to take home.

    Sorry, was my cynicism showing *again*?

  2. I’m so glad that my own instincts are in line with your suggestions! I am telling three little stories, we’re singing our hearts out, but I hadn’t thought of passing out cookies in the meetinghouse. That is just TOO CUTE!!

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