My Christmas visit at my brother's house continues and they have provided me with so much blog material that I think I will have to go through the events of Christmas Eve and Christmas day in several posts. I'll start with our experience getting to church service on Chirstmas Eve.
In most families, going to church on Christmas Eve is a given. The time may be up for debate if there are multiple services at the church, but going is never in question. In our family...let's just say there was a lot of discussion about going or not; even questioning friends to find out if they are going so we could base our level of guilt on how many of our peers would also be absent from the service. (For the sake of my relationship with my SIL, I should say that several of her friends were at the movies and McDonald's rather than church.) I didn't want to create any stress in the household by insisting we go...but I really didn't feel right about missing out on church...you know, because JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. So about 20 minutes before we would absolutely have to leave in order to get to church on time, three of us decided to go. The rest of the group could fend for themselves on judgment day. Matt got a free pass because he was sick but the rest of the group is going to have some explaining to do.
The church service was in the next town over and we made the mistake of letting mom drive. Even though the roads weren't icy and it wasn't snowing hard, she drove tentatively and kept questioning us about road conditions. Needless to say, we were 3 minutes late to church. And that 3 minutes made all the difference....
When we walked in to the church building we could hear the congregation singing so we thought we were home free to sneak in. For some reason, though, they don't stand when they sing at this church. (can I just pause here and say WHO DOES THAT?! I have been Methodist my whole life and this is the first time I have ever seen a church where they don't stand when they sing. Someone should tell them that you sound a lot better when you stand. And trust me, this group needed all the help they could get. Just sayin...) (if you are reading this and you were one of the people at church that night, I am not talking about YOU here. I am talking about the "others" that were singing. Not you.)
It was at this point that my sister in law told us that we were not going in. My mom and I looked at her like she was crazy because we had just driven 20 minutes in the snow to get there and we were definitely going in for the service. But she insisted. It was easy for us to just walk in 3 minutes late because no one knew us. She knew everyone so she wasn't having any part of that. So we compromised and sat in this back room that was 1. not lit 2. not heated 3. didn't have chairs and 4. had a frosted window that allowed us to only see shadows of people inside the church, not actual faces. On the plus side, it had an intercom so we could hear the service perfectly fine.
We followed along with the readings, recited the Lord's Prayer and sang the verses of the songs we knew (without hymnals, of course). According to the Christmas program, we had "Special Music" next. Apparently the two people that were supposed to sing the music walked up to the front of the church--we could tell because we saw the shadowy figures move from the pews to the stage. Then they turned on a.....boom box....as their backup music. Except that the system they used had the background mic turned up way too high so we couldn't hear the singers at all. Not even a little bit. I figured we just couldn't hear because we were in the back room that is not meant for viewing the service.
Since we couldn't hear anyway, I just started jotting down some notes to help jog my memory about the night for when I finally got a chance to write about it. This made my mother and SIL very nervous. There were attempts to steal the pen from me. My mom kept whisper yelling at me to stop writing. My SIL kept threatening to not talk to me again if I shared everything that was going on. I ignored both of them and muttered something about freedom of speech. Besides, taking notes was pretty unnecessary because there was no way I was forgetting about this ridiculousness. (for the record, my notes were stolen and thrown away after church)
After the special music someone from the congregation went to the pulpit to read a passage from the Bible related to the Christmas story. Before he began to read he asked everyone to stand. I thought oh sure, NOW you stand. We were 30 minutes into the service at that point. So we stood. In the dark (and cold) back room. All by ourselves. I could just see Jesus looking down on us and shaking his head.
The next "Special Music" was presented by a girl that my SIL knows so she was excited to hear her sing. We moved up closer to the frosted window to make an attempt to see the girl while she sang. As the background music started again it was clear that we weren't going to be able to hear a thing. It was odd, too, because the church was very small and there was maybe 20 feet between where we were standing and where the girl singing was positioned. I thought for sure we would be able to hear better if we were in the chapel so I snuck around to a side door and opened it slightly to stick my head in. No luck. The music was also loud inside the church. No one could actually hear her, which was too bad because apparently the girl that was singing is really great. Listening to the background music alone wasn't very inspiring. Or Christmasy, for that matter. It was just sort of awkward because here you have a whole church of people staring at a girl who was putting her heart and soul into a song and no one could hear a thing. But we did see the earnest on her face and her hand movements were lovely. Guess that counts for something.
As soon as that song was over my SIL was ready to leave. In fact, she started walking out. I objected saying that we still had a reading and Silent Night to go before it was over. And it was only 6:40 so it wasn't like the service was taking forever. But she kept going saying something about "sometimes just making an effort is all that matters!" And then she said that we could do the reading and sing Silent Night in the car while we drove home. Somehow I didn't think that was the point of going to the service. But that's exactly what we did. As she was pulling out of our parking spot to head home, she grabbed her program and read the "leader" part of the reading. Mom and I responded with the "congregation" part as we recited the words printed in the bulletin.
In the car while we were driving home.
Like it was perfectly normal.
When the reading was over we all simultaneously broke into Silent Night. There wasn't a pause or any hesitation. No one looked at anyone else to confirm that we were actually going to sing--the reading was over and then we all just started to sing. I was thinking it was the weirdest thing I had ever been a part of.
We couldn't remember all the words to the second verse so mom grabbed her phone and googled it. While she was doing that Tina turned on the radio and the station happened to be playing Silent Night at that exact moment. My SIL called it a "Christmas Miracle" and said that it justified the whole evening at church. She said it was God's way of telling us that we were ok.
Somehow I think our souls might have been better off if we had gone to the movies or McDonald's.