The Grinch Pastor

Every member of Joy Church likes Christmas a lot
But the Pastor who serves Joy Church does not.
How the pastor hates Christmas! The whole Christmas season.
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be, perhaps, that she dislikes putting up the tree,
It could be the parties at which she’s expected to be.
But we think the most likely reason of all
May be that she can’t stand the mall!

20151214-1Last Friday we ran into a member from our church at a concert. He asked how we were holding up during December and said, “My father was a church organist. He was so busy in December that he didn’t have much time for us children. I get it.” We thanked him for understanding.

I am a pastor who finds it difficult to navigate the Christmas season without imploding. Our home decorations are minimal, and we don’t have a wreath on the front door. I confess that last Christmas I didn’t even put up a tree. It was the first time ever, and it felt okay because none of the children and grandchildren were home. I’m out of touch with the Christmas scene, so when conversation at a church meeting last week turned to Christmas Villages, I innocently asked, “What’s a Christmas Village?”

Please don’t misunderstand. I relish the season of Advent, that time of waiting, watching, repentance and keeping alert for signs of Christ’s coming. I read our church’s Advent devotionals every morning and am inspired by stories of grace, courage and hope. I can’t wait to sing Christmas carols. My faith is strengthened as I prepare for and experience worship. Proclaiming the Christmas story in new and creative ways is critical in a culture where Christianity is just one among many religious traditions. Yet at the very time our society ramps up, I yearn to slow down. Every year the assumptions that our secular culture has for Christmas threaten to steal my joy and take captive my priorities.

New pastors learn quickly that every church has its own Advent and Christmas traditions. The cookie walks, potluck suppers, pageants, Sunday school programs and lessons and carols concerts are all wonderful! Yet the pastor is usually expected to be at every event.

The outreach projects in which most churches engage make a huge difference in our local communities and are a sign of hope for the world. But they can also serve to assuage our collective guilt at the massive amounts of money we spend on gifts for family and friends. How is a pastor to teach and model faithful discipleship and stewardship in a consumer society?

On Christmas Eve many people make their semiannual pilgrimage to church. Rather than bemoan their absence at other times of the year, I rejoice in their presence and the opportunity to connect with their spiritual needs. But it’s challenging for a preacher to share the good news of Jesus’ birth in ways that are relevant, compelling and joyful, yet mindful of those are grieving, sad, fearful, lonely or simply overwhelmed.

It took years to acknowledge the low-grade depression I experience every December and my secret desire to retreat to the wilderness. Especially when our children were home, I struggled to find time to decorate, attend school programs and purchase presents in the midst of the many demands of the church during Advent.

I resented having to find a babysitter on Christmas Eve because Gary and I both had 11:00 p.m. services. I couldn’t handle coming home late on Christmas Eve for thirty-plus years, only to face presents still to be wrapped. One Christmas Eve not too long ago, I broke down in tears and said to Gary, “I am so sorry. I haven’t even had a moment to purchase any gifts for you. Please forgive me.” He understood. All clergy do.

I lamented never being able to be with extended family until after Christmas because we couldn’t travel until Christmas Day. When we did travel, we had to get the kids up early, quickly open the presents, clean the house, take the tree down and put it out on the sidewalk by noon so we could get to the airport on time. It was sobering to hear our young adult children say to us last year, “We may not come home for Christmas this year because you don’t have time for us, anyway.”

At the same time, I have been blessed many times over by the kindness, generosity and understanding of every one of our congregations during the Christmas season. Time and again Gary and I remark to each other, “How do people survive who don’t have a church home?”

I have been blessed to serve communion on Christmas Eve to countless women, men, teenagers and children. It takes my breath away to have the holy privilege of looking into their longing eyes and saying, “This bread and cup is a sign of God’s never-failing love for you.”

I have been blessed by singing Christmas carols, which help me understand in a deeper way the mystery of Emmanuel, “God with us.” From the tears that flow when we sing “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low… O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing”) to the challenge of “O Holy Night” (“Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace”), I have been blessed.

I was blessed when our first grandchild, whom we don’t see very often, took his first steps at our house of Christmas Eve. And I am blessed every year with love, laughter and story after story of holiday travel adventures when our family finally springs free on Christmas Day.

20151214-2For all of my clergy colleagues and others who have a love/hate relationship with Christmas, I say, “Take heart. Be true to who you are. If you love to decorate, go for it! If you love to entertain in the parsonage, enjoy every minute! But there’s nothing wrong or sinful about keeping it uncomplicated. Don’t let the expectations of others determine how you observe this holy season of Advent.

“If your Spirit is fed by taking a walk in the woods rather than shopping, just do it. If you are better able to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation by sitting in a quiet sanctuary rather than attending a party, follow God’s leading. Find your own ways of sharing Christmas joy with a hurting world. Take time for yourself, and don’t forget to look for the star.”

Yes, I’ve been called a Grinch. So I’ve decided to claim my call as a Grinch pastor and observe Advent in simple ways that don’t stop Christmas from coming, honor the Christ child and celebrate our chance to make a difference in the world.

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She HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the pastor, with her grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“Christmas came with without ribbons? It came without tags?”
“It came without Amazon packages, boxes or bags?”
“Maybe Christmas,” she thought, “doesn’t come just for people who shop online.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…can be more fine!”
And what happened then? Well… at Joy Church they say,
That the pastor’s heart changed that day!
And the minute her heart was released to be herself,
She ran through the city divesting her wealth,
And she who with Advent and Christmas was miffed
The pastor herself, helped others become the gift.

Blessings,
Laurie

15 thoughts on “The Grinch Pastor

  1. Laurie, you spoke to me with this week’s blog. Blessings to you and Gary! You can come for quiet time at my house whenever you want.

  2. This writing made me stop and take a breath. I’m sure a collective sigh of relief came upon hearing that it is ok to celebrate Christmas a bit slower and with less, because our preacher said so!
    A wonderful message…Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. Laurie,
    I don’t think you are a Grinch and I understand completely where you are coming from. I too do not care for all the what I think of is the excess buying at Christmas. I grew up in a house with a parent who was an alcoholic and that ruined every Christmas for me. I repeated that mistake in my marriage and it has taken years for me to learn to ‘like’ Christmas Day. My favorite part of Christmas always was going to Christmas Eve services where I was filled with the true message of Christmas and was very moved by the Christmas music. This is what moves me today. I tell you family not to give me presents but to call me and come to see me during the year. That is the best gift they can give me.
    Thanks for sharing your feelings about Christmas. I hope it helps out people who feel like like the Grinch stop and realize that we really should be more concerned how our Lord feels about our actions.
    And by the way, I so appreciate all you and Gary do to make FUMC such a wonderful place to worship.

  4. Oh Pastor Laurie, I completely understand your Christmas grinch feelings and I’m not even a pastor! We had a floral and garden shop. Christmas seemed to last forever because we started designing Christmas arrangements in August! I hated decorating our house after decorating the flower shop and also hated the need for babysitters so we could work long hours. We had no family in our small town, but like you, AFTER Christmas we traveled “home.” Now we are retired and Christmas is different, but the meaning and awe around Jesus’ birthday is always the focal point during Christmas no matter what age or situation. We just have to take time to stop and remember. Wishing you hope, peace, joy and love this Christmas and all year round. Janet Glaser

  5. Well, I already know that your heart is at least 3 times as big as the most dedicated holiday shopper and you have the strength of “ten grinches, plus two”.
    Wishing you peace, comfort and joy…minus anyone else’s expectations.

  6. Laurie, my heart aches for you.
    I am a decorator. I have friends who are not, but that does not add to nor diminish their spiritual growth. Over the years I have learned to do what brings me pleasure or causes me to reflect. My devotions are enriched each morning with the Advent Wreath. Somehow the blending of light the candles give is different everyday. This helps me to be open to what I might be called to do in the 24 hours. Other times the various readings may have a general theme to enlighten me or one particular idea that speaks to an area that I need to heed.
    My advent wish for you is to recognize how much Gary and you, with your abundant but different strengths, have enriched the spiritual life of so many. Accept, appreciate and love, the you, that God created. We do!
    I am sharing my morning prayer, Oh Lord, help me today to season my words with grace. May all that I say and do be gracious to others and pleasing to You.
    O Lord my strength and redeemer.

  7. Oh Laurie, how I loved your message today. I have always resented all the shopping, gifts, and expense of Christmas. This year I am inviting Jay and his family, John and Lori, (Andrew’s parents) over on Christmas day for a meal at 2 pm. They can have their Christmas at home, and then we can all get together to eat and visit. I am furnishing and preparing all the food and beverages, and I got each family a box of candy to take home. I think this is one of the best Christmas’ I have had in years. And you gave me permission to do it. Ha Ha. Love and blessings to you all. Love, Sherry

  8. Laurie,

    I love it!

    I thought perhaps it came with age.

    I too, much prefer that quiet place to just meditate and remember.

    Thank you.

    Nel

  9. Good Morning Grinch,
    Truly understand your feelings! As a teacher of little ones, I approached this season with dread, for I always felt stretched so thin between home and school! This year, being home on a medical leave, I am loving the time to see friends (during the day), think clearly about family situations ( rather than just reacting), bake for others, listen to carols, and just sit.

    I do have a church related concern I hope you can explain to me. The longest night is Dec. 21. There will be 14 hours of dark. Why is our church observing early again? The year after Pete Jr. died, Pete and I spoke. We have encouraged and brought friends to the service. The service allowed feelings to come to the surface. I have the feeling that the real meaning of the Longest Night has been lost and it was a victim of the “Calendar.” If that is true, we have lost a focus and a tradition. People from all over come to our church on the 21, and find the church closed. As you can tell, I am deeply upset by this.

    Your weekly thoughts always hit a chord with me. Thank you for the beautiful writing.
    Hugs,
    Patty

  10. Merry Christmas and Happy and healthy New Year to you and yours. Jen continues to heal and was told if all her tests are fine this June she won’t have to have them for 3 years! Praise God. John got his dream job! Praise God! Everybody else is healthy. Praise God! Thank you for these blogs. I love them and I love you. Steph

  11. You spread so much joy, friendship and peace.
    May God bless you and help you find a quiet place to recover from all the demands upon you and Gary.
    Toni

  12. You said it! This is the busiest December ever for me- new church gig at East UCC, (new expectations!), Concert Choir accompanist at Ferris State, GR Symphony Chorus, tons of Clark funerals and other holiday gatherings (it is all who you know!). This is all great but part of me is dying to get to Christmas Day when I can just relax in the Man Cave and listen to my new complete JS Bach organ box set (Marie-Claire Alain – boy she plays fast!) Holiday preparation is like a big fat wedding… Everything has to be so PERFECT, just like it was in the good old days! So forced nostalgia…I really enjoy your blogs. A voice in the wilderness! Take it easy…Blessings, Mark

    • It’s great to hear from you, Mark. I can’t believe how busy you are right now. It makes my head spin. Clearly your gifts are in great demand. Blessings to you, Mary, Eric and Sarah.

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