Regular church attendees will likely notice strangers filling their pews and parking lots this weekend.
They call those people “C ‘n’ E’s” – urbandictionary.com even has definitions for “Chreaster” – “Those Christians who only show up to religious services on Christmas and Easter.”
Pastors at several Wichita churches say it’s their goal to turn the Chreasters into active churchgoers, but they won’t go as far as to alienate the rest of their congregation while they do it.
“It’s no secret that you’re definitely preaching to people you may only see once or twice a year,” said the Rev. Andrew Bergkamp, parochial vicar at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, who will deliver the homily at the church’s midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. “It is tempting to preach to your normal congregation, but it would behoove us to reach out to those who normally won’t be here. That is certainly something that I try to be cognizant of, to put myself in their shoes a little bit to see what they need and what will captivate them, certainly.”
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Bergkamp joined Blessed Sacrament in June shortly after graduating from seminary. As a first-year priest, he said, he doesn’t have the relationship with his congregation built up to say what some veteran priests might say.
“Priests sometimes are very explicit, in a half-joking way, to call people out and say, ‘For those of you who don’t frequent our services, you are welcome and even encouraged to come next weekend and any weekend,’” he said. “I think it just depends on how well established you are at an established parish or church.”
The Rev. John Oelze, executive pastor of First Mennonite Brethren Church, said his church’s approach to the two-time-a-year attendees is subtle, with an information card in their bulletin and a wall of information of what the church has to offer.
“Certainly for any guests, or even a Chreaster person, we’d love for them to come back further for other things we have here, whether it be events or concerts or small groups or anything like that,” Oelze said. “We’ll encourage people to do that if they come for the Christmas Eve service.”
At First Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Brent Johnson said he’s always aware that the Chreasters are in the congregation.
“I’d like to say, ‘If you like what you heard this Sunday, come and see us the next,’ but I don’t find that to be all that attractive,” said Johnson, who is in his fifth year as pastor at First Presbyterian. “I have a problem when you single people out. I tend to let the Holy Spirit do the job of convicting rather than trying to figure that one out.”
Johnson said he doesn’t tailor his sermon for those only there twice a year.
“The call for the church is to be excellent every Sunday,” he said.
First Presbyterian and Church of Blessed Sacrament are leaving both frequent and infrequent attendees with a gift at their Christmas services.
First Presbyterian gives them a flashlight/keychain, which is symbolic as well as useful.
“We’re going to remind them that Jesus is the true source of light in this world, who lightens our darkness,” Johnson said. “It’s the desire for everyone to let our light shine in the darkness.”
Those attending Blessed Sacrament’s Midnight mass will receive a copy of the book “Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changes Everything (and Still Does)” by Scott Hahn. Joy has been a theme of the sermons during the Advent season, Bergkamp said. Book clubs will form in the new year to discuss the content, he said, and regular and sometime-attendees are invited to participate.
“It’s an opportunity for people to either engage or re-engage the parish through that book, that gift,” he said.
The Rev. Roosevelt DeShazer, pastor of Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, said his church has not had a Christmas Eve service for many years, but he believes the message of Jesus’ birth and resurrection is a story that all should hear.
“I believe the Gospel of Jesus is what draws,” DeShazer said. “That’s what’s going to be preached and presented – about the gift God gave us through Jesus Christ and the gift he is still giving us.”
Progressive Missionary Baptist, DeShazer says, saves its nighttime service for a New Year’s Eve watch service to pray for the upcoming year.
During this weekend’s Sunday service, he said, the children of the church put on a presentation telling the Christmas story.
“The kids explain the birth of Christ their own way, and they explain it through dance and through song,” he said.
Bergkamp said earlier this week he was uncertain of the content of his sermon, but that it would expound on the theme of joy, even through hardship.
“(There’s a) bleakness that life can sometimes deliver to us, whether it’s natural disasters, confrontation that we have to embrace with evil in the world,” he said. “The war is won, but the battle still wages. Even in the midst of suffering and apparent chaos, there is still victory and cause for great joy.”
At First Mennonite Brethren, three Christmas Eve services will include candle lighting, “a lot of Christmas music” and an 8-10 minute devotional, Oelze said.
This year is unique, First Presbyterian’s Johnson said, as the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve.
The Sunday morning services will include the children bringing in the pieces for a Nativity scene, where there will be a reading of the Gospel of Luke and a dramatic reading from the perspective of the innkeeper’s wife.
The refrain of “no room at the inn” will continue through his Christmas Eve sermon, Johnson said.
“That’s a wonderful little line without social commentary, but really it deserves a little social commentary,” Johnson said.
“In this age where it seems there is no room in our hearts for the outsider, this is an opportunity for us to remind them of the message,” he added.
Live Nativity and Choral Cantata 7-8 p.m. Sun., Dec. 24, Hillside Christian Church, 8330 E. Douglas. Free. Come experience a re-enactment of the Biblical nativity story with live animals set to choral music. 316-683-6577, www.hillsidecc.org
Christmas Eve Service 6 p.m. Sun., Dec. 24, Immanuel Baptist Church, 1415 S. Topeka Street. Free. This year’s will include a dramatic expression of the birth of Christ, classic Christmas carols and additional surprises. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Bring your whole family and as many friends as you’d like. 316-262-1452, www.ibcwichita.com/
Christmas Eve Morning Worship 11 a.m. Sun., Dec. 24, Fairmount United Church of Christ, 1650 N. Fairmount. Free. Christmas Eve Morning Worship Service at 11:00 am. An informal and casual morning worship service ideal for the family and the grandkids. Brunch at 10 a.m. Fellowship Time prior to the service at 11 a.m. Everyone is welcome. Wheelchair accessible. 316-682-1597, www.fairmount-ucc.org
Christmas Eve Candlelight Worship Service 7 p.m. Sun., Dec. 24, Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 6000 E. Harry. Free. Everyone is welcome. Wheelchair accessible. www.pilgrimuccwichita.com
Christmas Eve at NewSpring Identical services at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sun., Dec. 24, NewSpring Church, 12200 E. 21st St. N. Includes live animal nativity and holiday music for children.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Christmas Eve Intergenerational Pageant with Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, 5 p.m., Dec. 24, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 7404 E Killarney Pl. Enjoy carolers and hot cider followed by the Christmas Eve Pageant with Holy Eucharist: Rite Two. 316-634-2513 www.ststephensec.org