On Christmas Eve, a single friend and I were discussing recent journalism and social media debates about the churches, often evangelical ones, that canceled Christmas Day services today, even though it’s Sunday, so people could stay home with their families.
Viewing the issue from our Anglican perspective, people had a variety of views, as always. Giving volunteer lay ministers the day off for Christmas, like Bob Cratchit, would be a kindness, someone said. Another pointed out that going to Saturday evening mass, whether on Christmas Eve or not, traditionally counts for Sunday.
All true. Yet our friend’s objection was to the implicit suggestion that everyone’s living in a Lifetime movie, with the whole gang gathered around the tree, sipping hot chocolate and singing carols. She lives alone, without family nearby. What if one’s church is one’s family?
I thought of our conversation when I popped in this morning at the non-stop weekly family reunion at Holy Trinity Saint Benedict Episcopal Church in Alhambra. The rector, the Rev. Brent Jr Quines, said they had a full house on Christmas Eve, beginning at eight and finishing after midnight. And yet Christmas morning took on a whole life of its own. Fifty were in church, some having come as far as Fontana, Corona, and Newport Beach.
Fr. Brent invited me to offer a Christmas message. I reflected on Christ’s Christmas gift of family (broadly construed), security, and hope. I hadn’t reckoned it as the sermon, but Brent did, going right to the creed afterward. We sang four Christmas hymns accompanied by piano and guitar. Then the Episcopal Church Women came with a full lunch.
Among the worshippers was Esther Manguramas, widow of the Most Rev. Constancio Manguramas, a former Philippine Episcopal bishop and primate who died in 2020. I enjoyed chatting with her, three of her sons, and one of her nine grandchildren, studying to be a nurse. So family life goes on. The old chapel, which burned in mid-2021, is almost ready to reopen, the 2023 pledge drive is going strong, and plans are afoot to renovate the kitchen. O, tidings of comfort and joy! Merry first day of Christmas, everyone.