Residents, visitors flock to Christmas services
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – By the end of the day today, Ethan Moore’s going to be whipped but in an exhilarated, “did we just pull that off?” kind of way.
Moore’s the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. That church will hold three Christmas Eve services today, one each at its home church in Edwards, as well as the interfaith chapels in Vail and Beaver Creek. When Moore gets home about 10 p.m. tonight, he’ll be ready for a long winter’s nap. But you won’t hear a peep of complaint.
“I never get tired of it,” Moore said of his Christmas Eve routine. “For me, it’s a real marker of my year.”
Christmas, along with Easter, are the two big days on the Christian calendar, with Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus. Over the centuries, Christmas has also evolved into a celebration of growing light in the world, both literally and figuratively. Every year, Christians gather, sing familiar songs and hear the gospels’ account of the birth of their savior. But pastors usually have sermons prepared, in which they try to tie together the message of Christ’s birth with the world we live in.
That’s why “pushing back the darkness” will be the theme of Father Brooks Keith’s Christmas sermons to his fellow Episcopalians.
In the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., “all of us are (pushing back darkness) right now,” Keith said. “We have to look reality square in the eye.”
The way Christians respond, Keith said, is to build community, whether that’s filling food baskets or ringing bells or simply gathering together to celebrate.
The messages Keith and other ministers deliver today will reach thousands. All Christian churches celebrate Christmas, of course, but the interfaith chapels in Vail, Beaver Creek and Edwards all will host several services each. The Episcopalians may have the most services this year among the Protestants – between Sunday, today and Tuesday, there will be eight services.
All those services require some tight scheduling, for the chapels and the ministers.
Tim Wilbanks, pastor of the Presbyterian congregation that worships at the chapels, said he’ll hold a service at 3 p.m. at Beaver Creek and at 5:30 p.m. at Vail. The services will be about an hour each, and then there will be a break to empty and refill the chapels.
Wilbanks said that leads to a “great interchange” between worshippers coming in and going out.
“It’s all the same focus,” Wilbanks said. “Right after our service, you have another church full of people, for the same reason.”
Even with the crush of people, Wilbanks said people are still at ease during the services.
“You don’t want anything to feel rushed,” he said.
Wilbanks said he sees many of the same visiting families year after year, along with a good number of newcomers.
Christmas Eve services have traditionally used candles toward the end, while those attending sing “Silent Night.” The scene is a little different at the chapels. Live candles simply present too much risk.
These days, Wilbanks asks people to use the light of their cellphones to illuminate the chapel – Wilbanks even has an app on his phone that’s a single, lit candle.
But at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards, the candles will still be lit the old-fashioned way – person-to-person, with grown-ups showing their kids how it’s done. Gracious Savior will also have a live donkey – “Dumpling” – in its Christmas pageant at 7 p.m.
While Gracious Savior’s congregation is made up mostly of local residents, Pastor Jason Haynes said that church still sees a significant number of visitors – people in the valley just for the holiday season.
That’s an indication of how important this holiday is to so many.
“I love seeing three or four generations of families,” Keith said. “These people will schedule their vacations around few things, and this is one of them.”
It’s also an indication that there’s more to a Vail Valley visit than just fun, Keith said.
“Our congregations support a three-dimensional resort,” he said. “We’re feeding souls here – no restaurant can touch that.”
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