If I were to ask you to describe some of your favorite holiday memories, would they include your church family? As the current holidays are upon us, and our churches prepare for Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas cantatas, I can’t help but feel nostalgia as I remember the past. Attending the same church for 26 years has given me many memorable memories.
When fall begins, the church undergoes a transformation. Gone are the flowers of summer to be replaced by Chrysanthemums and leaves throughout the foyer and sanctuary. Yellows, oranges, browns, and golds flow from Kentucky’s native lands and into our building.
The transition into winter dons evergreen wreaths, red bows, and Christmas trees that twinkle. Porcelain figurines of wise men and shepherds are placed around Mary and Joseph looking upon the young Savior. Meals are eaten on white tablecloths, and the church calendar is full.
In my youth, I was an angel in the Christmas program. I wore white, a sparkly halo, and a big grin in front of the congregation who smiled back at me and the rest of the young children portraying the nativity scene.
A few years after, I was baptized in the pulpit, surrounded by Christmas decorations and a congregation welcoming me to the family of believers.
As I reached my teen years, I recall the first Thanksgiving meal we held in our new fellowship hall. The church had experienced growth. Needing a new place to dine together was a blessing, and a sign we were reaching others for the Kingdom. It was exciting, and the new hall was named after Mr. and Mrs.Gore. The couple were faithful members, who modeled servitude, love, and Christ to my young self. When Mrs. Gore died, I tried to cheer the spirits of Mr. Gore with Sunday morning hugs and an occasional mailed card. We developed a friendship I still treasure. He taught me that Christians in the church can contribute at any age, whether young or old. The first Thanksgiving meal in Gore Hall, without my older friend, brought tears to my eyes. But I had joy in my heart at the thought of his new home and healed body in Heaven.
Continue on to my college years, and having a church home that made it a priority to celebrate the real reasons for the holidays, kept me accountable to attending and remembering these wonderful memories. It seems the college years for members is a time many walk away from their church and relationship with God. New found freedom and varying religious philosophy can lead our college-aged believers astray. I know this to be true because it happened to me. I thank God for parents, a pastor, and a church that kept holding on and loving me. They reminded me of my faith, and the holidays were a perfect time to do this with the focus on church unity and remembrance of why Christians celebrate holidays.
Yet, I know these memories did not really begin three decades ago when I was a toddler. No, these memories were set in motion 2000 years ago, when God sent a babe to save the world.
These beautiful and guiding moments from my past, moments in my church I will always cherish, were because of God and His perfect plan for me, and you. A plan that began in a manger, continued to the cross, and is still ongoing. This is what is most remarkable about our holiday memories with our church families.
God created the church, through Christ, as a benefit to us. The church is devised of all believers, of course. And though our denomination is separated into many churches throughout the world, we are still one body. We believe the same Bible truths, worship the same God, and acknowledge there is more to any holiday than food and gifts. You see, these memories are what God wants for us: fellowship, accountability, love, worship, outreach, and remembrance.
This is what the holidays are about. This is what the church is about. And it’s certainly something to celebrate this year and every year.
Just as you are making more memories in your church this season, I too am doing the same. I am fortunate enough to continue memory making at the church I grew up in, with my husband and young daughter now by my side. As he and I see the holidays through our child’s young eyes, I continually pray she experiences and creates similar memories like those I carry. Events and moments with her Christian family she will one day look back on with joy and a smile, knowing it all really began long ago. Don’t we want our children’s fondest holiday memories to include those of the church?
As we make new memories this holiday season, may we remember to not forget those wonderful ones of the past. It’s my hope we take a moment to acknowledge and savor them. Share these memories with others, write them down, or simply close our eyes and playback those blessings God gave us.
This post was originally published in The Cumberland Presbyterian November/December 2016 Issue. For more information about this magazine, Christian resources, and the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination, please visit https://cpcmc.org/