Advent & Christmas at St. John’s

 

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The season of Advent – the four Sundays leading to Christmas, and the celebration of Christmas Eve & Christmas & Epiphany is an event-filled time of year at St. John’s.  Above all, there are special services as we anticipate and celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. In addition, there are many opportunities for special mission projects and fellowship with our St. John’s family.  DSC_0483

SPECIAL WORSHIP SERVICES:  There is special music, worship and the lighting of the Advent candles for the four Sundays of Advent. The second Sunday of Advent we celebrate our White Gift Service, our best-attended service of the year, which includes a traditional Christmas story pageant. On Christmas Eve, we celebrate with two services, the family service at 7:00 pm and the traditional Christmas Eve service at 11:00 pm. On Christmas Day a time for Communion is held between the hours of 8:30 am – 11:00 am. 10847455_10152404320491787_5625634456468190117_o

WHITE GIFT SERVICE – The Second Sunday of Advent 
This is the favorite Sunday worship service of many at St. John’s, our tradition going back to 1959. Those attending bring gifts, wrapped in white tissue paper & marked for the appropriate age/size/gender, which are brought forward during the service and later distributed to UCC churches in Norristown & Philadelphia and Urban Promise in Camden.
The story of the first Christmas is told as a pageant, with our children and youth portraying the story as it is read from the Holy Bible and sung in the words of familiar carols.
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 The tradition of the White Gift Service was brought to St. John’s by members Herbert and Lynn Baldwin, who had celebrated this tradition at their former church home in New England.  The service was first held on Sunday, December 20, 1959 at 4:30 pm in the sanctuary, primarily a project of the Junior High Sunday School department.  The articles below are from the Herald in 1959, and correctly predicted that this service would become a favorite St. John’s tradition!  The service became part of our Sunday morning worship service in 1974, once held at at 10:45 am and now at 10:15 am on the second Sunday of Advent.
1959-12-06 Herald White Gift Service 1 1959-12-13 Herald White Gift Service 2
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 This article from the December 4, 1960 Herald references the first service, 1959.
1960-12-04 Herald White Gift Service
                                     Below: White Gift Service, December 4, 2016
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 Below: White Gift Service, December 6, 2015
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                               Below: White Gift Service, December 7, 2014
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Below: White Gift Service, December 6, 2009
 
2009-12-06 White Gift Service
 Below: White Gift Service, December 7, 2008
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  Below: White Gift Service, December 9, 2007
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 Below: White Gift Service, December 10, 2006
 2006-12-10 Tanner Family White Gift Service
  Below: White Gift Service, December 5, 2004
2004-12-05 Walton Family White Gift Service
 
Potluck Productions – A ‘new’ tradition is the Potluck Productions, combining a ‘covered dish’ dinner and musical entertainment as a special part of our Wednesday Enrichment Program.  All are invited to come for ‘dinner and a show’, including a carol sing-along.  In 2016, this event was held on Wednesday, December 14th.
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                                        CHRISTMAS EVE – December 24, 2017

Our Family Service is held at 7:00 pm with special music offered by the Sunday School Classes, the Cherub and Junior Choirs and the intergenerational ensemble United Voices.  Our Christmas Eve candlelight service begins at 10:30 pm, featuring the Chancel Choir, St. John’s United Ringers and St. John’s Brass.  The worship service that follows at 11:00 pm includes familiar Christmas Lessons, Carols, Christmas Meditation, and Holy Communion.

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CHRISTMAS DAY –  December 25, 2017 

Our sanctuary is open on Christmas day from 8:30 am to 11:00 am for the celebration of Holy Communion.  If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, one worship service is held at 9:30 am. 

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Special Social Events: On the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent, the Hanging of the Greens takes place to gather to decorate the sanctuary and church for the season. This event is sponsored annually by our Board Of Deacons. Volunteers are also needed each year for the “Un-hanging of the Greens”, which usually take place after worship on the first Sunday of January after New Year’s Day, Epiphany Sunday.

White Gift Sunday – Soup and Cookie Sale. We also have our annual Soup and Cookie Sale on the second Sunday of Advent, White Gift Sunday. The sale takes place after worship in our Assembly Hall. Volunteers to bake cookies are always welcome!

2014 Women's Tea

The Women’s Annual Christmas Tea happens the 2nd Saturday of December in St. John’s Assembly Hall.  It features tea & tea cakes at formally-dressed tables by candlelight, with music, speakers, & the signing of Christmas carols!  Plan to attend in 2017 & wear your ‘tea hat’, too! (Photo originally posted to St. John’s Facebook page by Lulumae Truscott.)  Our 2016 offering received ~ $775 ~ was sent, in its entirety, to Thistle Farms in Nashville, Tennessee, to support the work being done by the Rev. Becca Stevens and her team in a program that gives women who have been caught in the destructive web of violence, prostitution, trafficking and addiction, a chance for new life. Thistle Farms motto is: Love is the greatest force for change in the world.

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Poinsettia Donations:  If you would like to donate a poinsettia during the Christmas Season in memory or honor of a loved one, this is an opportunity available during the first weeks of December. Watch for information in the Enlightener & Herald in early December. After the Christmas Eve services they are distributed to those homebound or in need of some special Christmas blessings that year.

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The Stewardship Committee sponsors an annual Christmas breakfast in the Assembly Hall the 4th Sunday of Advent, starting at 8:30 am until 10 am, then restarting just after the 10:15 am worship service ends. The menu includes scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes, potatoes, juice, coffee & tea for a free will offering.

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Special Mission Projects: Some of our seasonal projects begin in November before the Advent season and conclude on or near White Gift Sunday so that the gifts can be distributed before Christmas.  Watch for these in the Enlightener & Herald.  See our Outreach Team page for more information about this year’s projects.

Our annual MittenTree collects scarves, caps, hats, gloves & mittens for distribution by our friends at Urban Promise in Camden, NJ. to those in need in that community.

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In the past few years our annual Coat Drive collected new or gently-used coats for distribution at CNOC UCC in Norristown, Living Water UCC in Philadelphia, and Urban Promise in Camden, NJ.  We collected thousands of coats over the years thanks to your generosity.  In 2016 we turned our attention to collecting gift cards for Manna on Main Street and also supermarket gift cards(for our pastors to distribute to needy families and individuals through the year as special needs arise).   

Also, a special Christmas offering gives donations to Bethany Children’s Home, Our church’s Wider Mission, Veterans of the Cross, and Manna on Main Street, and gift cards for our pastors to distribute for special needs.

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Luke 2: 8-14 – “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!'” (NRSV)

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Below: from the archives: St. John’s tradition of Christmas pageants goes back many generations – play program from Christmas, 1930

1930 Christmas Pageant

Below: The Herbert Baldwin family brought the idea of the White Gift Service to St. John’s from another church they had attended, becoming our best-attended service of the year. This article from 1955 suggests the White Gift Service evolved from a one time special service at the 1955 St. John’s Women’s Guild, where Mrs. Baldwin presented the Christmas story in pageant form and the gifts (offering) were given to Bethany Children’s Home. Scroll up to read more about the present White Gift Service tradition since 1959.

1955 Women's Guild Christmas