By Seth Hix
CBFNC Associate Coordinator
For the past 32 weeks most of our CBFNC congregations have been worshiping in a virtual, hybrid or outdoor setting. These seven months have required church leaders and pastors to think creatively in planning worship services for Holy Week, Easter, Mother’s Day, graduation celebrations, communion, baby dedications, baptisms and many other seasonal worship experiences. However, the quickly approaching Advent season will require another level of imagination, as it is arguably the most meaningful season on the church calendar for many of our churches!
On October 7, CBFNC convened a virtual roundtable discussion on Advent. Approximately 50 ministers from across North Carolina – and six other states – shared ideas about how their churches were planning for the Advent season in the midst of a global pandemic. You can find a recording of this one hour roundtable discussion on the Coronavirus Resources page of the CBFNC website: https://cbfnc.org/coronavirus-resources/.
To help frame the conversation, four panelists shared about what their individual congregations are preparing. We then allowed time for open discussion and idea sharing. Here are a few of the ideas that were discussed:
Rev. Garin Hill shared how the pastoral staff of his congregation, First Baptist Church, Forest City, NC, has framed the Advent season by asking the question, “What are the most important elements of the Advent season for our people right now?” Rev. Hill, who is the senior pastor, explained that their three-part answer to this question included, (1) the music of the Season, (2) the decorations of the sanctuary, (3) and the stories and scriptures of Christmas. Their Advent season will undoubtedly include the most familiar hymns and carols, but they will also continue the treasured tradition of the youth choir singing, “The Star is Shining Still,” even though it will have to be pre-recorded in a virtual format for 2020. Maintaining some of the long-standing liturgical traditions will hopefully provide a sense of continuity for church members this year. Since their congregation has not yet returned to in-person worship, they will also be intentional about adjusting the pulpit and camera angles so that the beloved sanctuary Chrismon Tree and other sanctuary trimmings and be visible during live-streamed services.
In recent years Rev. Hill says that their “Blue Christmas” worship service has become a significant part of the Advent season for people who have suffered a loss in the previous year. This service, specifically designed for worshipers to acknowledge and express their grief, should be particularly meaningful in 2020. They plan to celebrate this service digitally, incorporating the lighting and extinguishing of candles in homes.
Rev. Richard Suggs, minister of music of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC, explained the difficult decision to cancel what would have been their 41st annual Singing Christmas Tree production. They will be unable to welcome the community into their facility for this regionally celebrated seasonal event this year. But, the arduous process of creating an online virtual production, that can be shared with even a larger audience, has already begun! This year’s program will include a mix of recordings from previous years, as well as a few newly recorded songs with smaller-than-usual, socially distanced choirs spread out safely across the sanctuary. One of the benefits of this year’s approach is the nostalgia of adult choir members who will see themselves and relive their youth choir days through archived songs.
Rev. Amy McClure of First Baptist Church on Fifth in Winston Salem, shared about how their Advent celebration will extend beyond the worship service and include church members of all ages. Their traditional Advent Workshop for young families will continue this year virtually, with the help of some senior adults in the congregation. Rev. McClure plans to incorporate the senior adults in her church (many of whom are already paired with a child as ongoing prayer partners and regularly join the Thursday morning “Zoom Training” sessions) to participate and lead in this year’s virtual Advent Workshop. All required materials will be distributed at a church pick-up event or delivered by volunteers.
First Baptist Church of Kernersville also plans to celebrate the advent season in nontraditional ways beyond the weekly worship services. Dr. Steve Martin, pastor, shared about the importance of church members “remaining connected” during this holy season. This year they will substitute their customary sanctuary poinsettias for outside lights, they will ask members to decorate their parking spots in chalk for Advent, and will create an Ebeneezer stone sculpture – made up of individually decorated stones – in their prayer garden as a way of remembering God’s faithfulness through a turbulent 2020.
Other ministers on the call shared about how their congregations will gather outside at a popular wedding venue for a Christmas Eve candlelight service; or host an outdoor community carol sing against the backdrop of their sanctuary’s beautiful stained-glass windows; or facilitate members recording digital Christmas cards for other church members; or host a “Baby’s first Christmas” drive-thru celebration; or create a hybrid Hanging of the Green service with pre-recorded families decorating the sanctuary, reading scripture and singing songs.
There is certainly no shortage of creativity in our CBFNC congregations! We would love to hear about how your church will experience Advent 2020 as a community of faith. If you have a great idea, or would share some pictures of videos of some element of your congregation’s celebration, please email Seth Hix, CBFNC associate coordinator at: firstname.lastname@example.org.