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“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; … a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, 4, 5b, 7b, ESV).

Dear Southwood Church Family,

I’m writing today to let you know that the Church Council held an emergency meeting last night to discern together the way forward for Christmas Eve, in light of the emerging Omicron/COVID-19 situation here in Calgary. We prayed. We lamented. We listened. We wrestled. And, ultimately, we decided that the wisest decision was to shift to a virtual-only Christmas Eve service this year.

We will not be holding in-person services on Dec. 24th or Dec. 26th. It is yet to be determined what the plans for January will be.

I am so saddened by this, while also being confident it is the right decision for our congregation at this time. Our faith calls us to be a people who love one another and our neighbours by seeking to do all that we can to protect the most vulnerable amongst us; as we head into this next wave, it seems prudent and faithful to stay one step ahead so that we do not unwittingly facilitate a super-spreader event. As well, I believe that we must continue to pursue faithful public witness as followers of Jesus—not least at Christmastime, when the whole world is watching to see what we Christians will do. This is a situation in which we must put the needs of others—and the common good—ahead of what I know for many of us (for me) is a deep-seated desire to be together in-person to sing carols and worship the Newborn King.

I don’t know about you, but the ‘waiting’ of this Advent season has seemed to me to be more restless than in years past. And perhaps not as consciously joy-filled. I think it’s because we’re not only waiting with anticipation of the birth of Christ, we’re also waiting with frustration and uncertainty about when we can … gather … sing … eat … commune … hug … again. And yet, I’m reminded that Jesus taught us about the frustration of waiting, didn’t he? In his teachings about the coming Kingdom, one of the key themes is that it is not for us to know the ‘when’, even as we hold onto the promises of the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. He refers back to the story of Noah and the flood in the book of Genesis:  

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. … Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:36–39, 44).

Let us take comfort then, that even in the midst of our sorrow that we cannot gather as we’d planned—as we’d looked forward to—this Christmas Eve, we can rest in the promise that our Heavenly Father knows when the time will be right; when the time will be safe. This Father loves and holds you and me as a mother cradling her children in her arms, whispering in our ears the promise of the Gospel that we will never been forsaken or alone. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
—Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love 27 (13th Revelation).

* * *

But: Christmas Eve is not cancelled!

I hope you will prioritize gathering together virtually at 4:30 PM on Friday, December 24th (4:00 for pre-service carolling!) We chose this time because it is in between when the 4:00 and 7:00 services would have been held. The full service will be streamed live at southwoodchurch.ca/live, on our Facebook page, on our YouTube channel, as well as inside of a Zoom meeting for those who may wish to see one another’s faces as we worship together. For those on Zoom, you’re invited to bring a candle with you on-screen for our traditional closing singing of “Silent Night” (and if you want to watch the public stream and then join Zoom just for that latter portion of the service, you are most welcome to do that).

After the service, starting around 5:40 PM, all are invited to join/stay connected on Zoom, to see familiar faces, share a cup of virtual coffee, tea, or cider, and be together in fellowship. We’ll have breakout rooms available if you’d like to step aside with a few people for a chat, or you can hang out in the main room. Riley may even start up a Bingo game if you ask him nicely …

If you’re unable to make it to the 4:30 service live, we will be re-streaming the recording at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM on the church website, and the full service will be also posted on our Facebook page and YouTube channel for later viewing. All the details, including relevant links, will be posted at southwoodchurch.ca/christmas shortly and sent out via the newsletter on Thursday.

Sisters, brothers, and siblings in Christ—know that I am grieving the loss of our in-person plans right alongside of you. Know that your Council prayerfully and discerningly came to this decision, with sadness and yet also with confidence in the wisdom of it. And know that my prayer for you this Christmas Eve, and beyond, is that you would be filled afresh with the wonder and joy of the Gospel, as Christ is born anew in all our hearts again this year.

My love in the Lord,
Rev. Sam

______________________________
Rev. Samuel P. Grottenberg, B.A., M.A., Dip.DS.
Lead Pastor, Southwood United Church

Please also take time to read the news message from our Council Chair, Jan McLean, posted here: southwoodchurch.ca/news/a-message-from-the-chair