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Hepburn Becomes Bethlehem
As we sat down to plan for our annual Hepburn MB Christmas events, the list of what we couldn’t do felt daunting. Yet we felt a nudge that we needed to do something. We dreamed about what we could do and prayed for an idea. We invited a group of creative people to join with our staff, and a “Journey Through Christmas” was born. It was a 30-minute drive thru Christmas experience that took guests through scenes from the first Christmas as well as a light tour of our beautiful town. The vision quickly gained momentum in our community and grew into something better than we could have imagined. On December 10 & 11 we welcomed 200 cars and approximately 744 guests to Journey Through Christmas.
Our guests received a soundtrack that included an original narrative set to music that guided them through the tour. They journeyed through our town, seeing scenes of the first Christmas that included a bustling Bethlehem market, shepherds with sheep, and dancing angels culminating in the nativity scene. While they went, they heard Joseph reflecting about how God chose ordinary people to be a part of an extraordinary story. We tried to make it an immersive experience.
Joy from the Community
One of the gifts to the staff was watching our congregation come alive with this project. Like many others, we were feeling weary, and wondered if this was even feasible to ask our congregation. But we began to share the vision and every request we made was met with an enthusiastic yes! Journey Through Christmas united us as we shared God’s good news with our community.
This event also reminded us that when we go out into our community, we can have a different impact than when we invite them into our building. We were met continually with joy and gratitude for providing a safe family event. More than half of the guests came from surrounding communities. We also asked guests to bring food bank donations. In total we raised 4800 pounds of food for the food bank in Rosthern.
Hosting an event like this during the covid-19 pandemic did not come without challenges. Many times we had to adjust plans to remain compliant with the guidelines. In the end, we were able to remain completely compliant. We are amazed at how God used our small idea and turned it into something better than we ever imagined. We are heading into Christmas overwhelmed with gratitude for the way this event brought hope and joy into our community.
If you’d like to see more check out the video here.
“Thus Saith the Lord” in Virtual Times
“Preaching is a living interaction involving God, the preacher and the congregation.”
~Haddon W. Robinson
When I was a child, a point of pride for me was when my Dad would stand at the front of our church and preach the Word of God to our small corner of the world in southwest Saskatchewan. Before this culminating event, I also observed my Dad’s rhythms of seeking God for what to preach to the people God had entrusted into his care week after week.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, preaching moved from the Sunday morning gathering to a video filmed earlier in the week or to delivery via live stream to people scattered throughout a town, city, or countryside. I appreciate the efforts of many churches to have their preacher preach to their people. On some level, this is about seeing a familiar face and feeling connected to the community in a time of isolation. I know it is a joy for me to see my pastor’s face during these long months that continue to march on.
On another level, I think we were enacting a theological truth. Why, after all, didn’t we just send our congregants an internet link to a famous preacher somewhere with an established live streaming or podcast platform? Why did we insist that it was important to put in the effort to preach our own sermons, even with the added piece of editing a video or setting up a live stream? (Side bar: There is legitimate room in the church’s discipleship paradigm for special speakers to address a specific topic/text via video, but in my view, doing so as a staple of the church’s worship experience is theologically problematic due to reasons I will outline below).
Preaching: A Word from the Living God
I think the answer is that we have a conviction, although implicit, that “at the heart of preaching is…a God who speaks, and who speaks now, in the sermon.”* Preaching is not a personal opinion or some good ideas strung together, but rather a word from the Living God. And second, preaching is a word from that living God that is relevant NOW. The preacher discerns what God might need to say to his people, and then, like the prophets in the biblical narrative, says “thus saith the Lord” (Isa. 7:7 KJV). In the biblical narrative, these prophetic words carry weight. We cannot divorce the preaching we hear today from this biblical precedent. This is not a task to take lightly, nor is it a task to farm out to preachers far away. It is a decidedly contextual event.
So, even if your sermon videos aren’t of the top production quality, even if your live streaming equipment isn’t all that is could be (or all that it could cost), my encouragement to our local pastors is to keep preaching. God knows your people, and you know your people, with their unique journeys, temptations, and joys, and the Word of the Lord will go forth to your people as you continue to preach and pray for them.
*Willimon, William H. Proclamation and Theology. Horizons in Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005. Page 2.