Before heading off to church this weekend, you might want to double-check the service schedule.
With Christmas falling on a Sunday, some churches are changing their regular services to give people a chance to spend time with family. Some Roman Catholic churches are expanding Mass schedules; some Protestant and nondenominational congregations are scaling back Sunday services and emphasizing Christmas Eve vigils.
“We will have our traditional Candles and Carols service on Christmas Eve, where the church congregation comes together to sing songs and Christmas carols at 6 p.m., and we will offer one service on Christmas instead of the two that we normally have on Sundays,” said the Rev. Diana Swoope, senior pastor at Arlington Church of God. “We want to give our members some family time, particularly those with young children, but still give them an opportunity to come to Sunday worship.”
Arlington’s regular Sunday schedule includes 8:15 and 11 a.m. worship times. Swoope said the church is planning for an overflow crowd on Christmas because there will be just one service at 11 a.m.
Like Arlington, The Chapel will offer one Sunday service at each of its campuses in Akron, Green and Wadsworth. The Christmas service is at 10 a.m. in Akron and Green and at 10:30 a.m. in Wadsworth. Each campus also will have two Christmas Eve services, at 6 and 11 p.m.
“We are telling people that all three services [at each campus] will be identical and asking them to choose one service to attend and spend the rest of their time with family and friends,” said the Rev. Paul Sartarelli, senior pastor at The Chapel. “This way, families can decide if it’s best for them to attend service on Saturday or Sunday.”
The nondenominational megachurch typically offers several Christmas Eve services but no Christmas Day services. Its regular schedule includes no Saturday services and eight Sunday services at its three campuses: four in Akron; three in Green and one in Wadsworth.
An interesting twist is that while The Chapel is scaling back to one Sunday service at each campus on Christmas, it will offer nine services this weekend rather than the usual eight. Sartarelli said in looking at records from 2005, the last time Christmas fell on a Sunday, attendance was down.
“From the Protestant and evangelical side, people are not used to going to church on Christmas Day like Roman Catholics,” Sartarelli said. “I grew up Catholic. So this year, I’m going back to my Catholic roots and attending church on Christmas.”
For Catholics, Christmas — the feast of the Nativity — is the last holy day of obligation in the year. As such, priests typically add to the Mass schedule. Because Christmas is on Sunday this year, they will have fewer Masses to celebrate.
“It will give priests a break because we won’t be adding Masses during the week for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The number of times we will have to celebrate Mass will be reduced to about half,” said the Rev. Tony Sejba, pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Medina. “A lot of Catholics like to go to Christmas Eve services because they are so busy trying to hit both sides of the family but still need to attend Mass.”
St. Francis Xavier has scheduled Christmas Eve Masses at 4, 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. at the church and a 4:30 p.m. service at the Medina Performing Arts Center. The parish is canceling its Life Teen Mass, which is typically at 5:30 p.m. Sundays. Christmas Masses are at 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday. The regular weekend Mass schedule at St. Francis Xavier is 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 and 10 a.m. and noon Sunday.
“I’m trying to encourage people to come on Sunday by telling them that they will be able to find a spot in the parking lot and that they will be able to find a seat in the sanctuary,” Sejba said. “But I’ll be happy to see them whenever they come because it means they want to come and pray and celebrate the Lord’s Nativity.
“It’s important for them to know that Jesus comes to save us and for them to experience the presence of Christ in the midst of whatever they’re going through, whether it’s the loss of loved ones, economic strife or other tragedies and difficulties.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com.