Advent & Christmas at St. John’s


 Advent & Christmas Season 

Below is the sample schedule of worship opportunities at St. John’s UCC for December, 2023.  This will give you an idea of the worship opportunities each Christmas.


St. John’s Advent & Christmas Season  


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 & fellowship with our St. John’s family.


SPECIAL WORSHIP SERVICES:  There is special music, worship and the lighting of the Advent candles for the four Sundays of Advent. The first Sunday of Advent we celebrate our Love Gift Service. On Christmas Eve, we normally celebrate with two services, a family service at 5:00 pm and the traditional Christmas Eve service at 11:00 pm.  Times may vary when Christmas falls on a Sunday.


Love Gift Service – Our Christmas Season Traditional Service, Held in 2023 on the first Sunday of Advent


The Love Gift Service gift-giving presentation has been a tradition at St. John’s since 1959 that reminds us what the Advent season is all about.  Here’s how it works:  We invite you to bring gifts (see list of ages and kinds of gifts) to church with you on the first Sunday of December, the day we hold this service at 10:15 am.  A list of suggested gifts will be released prior to the event each year.  Toward the end of the service, the gifts are brought forward by the congregation as we sing familiar traditional Christmas carols and the gifts are handed to children and youth, who will stack them in the altar area.  


After the service, the gifts are sorted and distributed to those in need at two designated locations:  The men’s shelter at Old First Church UCC in center city Philadelphia, & UrbanPromise in Camden, NJ.  These organizations greatly appreciate our generosity each year.  




Photos below are from past years when the service included a costumed Christmas pageant, a live ‘holy family’, and the gifts wrapped in white paper. 


Beginnings: 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.  One of our members remembers Herb Baldwin speaking at the first White Gift Service.  The Baldwins moved to Indianapolis in the 1960’s but the tradition remained here.  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.  During the pandemic of 2020, a special walk-through event was held to bring gifts and view the ‘holy family’ and decorated sanctuary, along with a recorded audio White Gift service. The service was held in a limited way in 2021 due to the pandemic. We returned to a full ‘reimagined’ service in 2022.  The service was renamed in 2023 to the “Love Gift Sunday” service as the recipients requested that the gifts no longer be wrapped so the families can wrap them themselves after the gifts are selected for family members.
The “White Gift Service”, held 1959-2022, was been a beloved tradition at St. John’s that reminded us what the Advent season was all about.  Toward the end of the service, after a special program of the telling of the first Christmas story in Bible readings, Christmas music and a tableaux presentation, the gifts were brought forward by the congregation as we sang familiar traditional Christmas carols & the gifts, wrapped in white paper,  handed to the children participating in the program, who stacked them around the ‘holy family’.  Following the service, the gifts were sorted and packaged and delivered to recipient groups who distributed them in their communities.
For many years (up to the year 2021) there was a tradition each year of a St. John’s family with a recently-born child portraying the “holy family” in a tableau pageant re-telling of the story of the first Christmas during the White Gift Service.  The photos shown below are some of those families from during the 2000’s.
                  CHRISTMAS EVE – DECEMBER 24th

When Christmas is NOT on a Sunday, our Family Service is held at 5:00 pm aimed at all ages with special music offered by the Children’s Choir.  Our Christmas Eve candlelight service begins at 10:30 pm with a half hour of Christmas music as you enter the sanctuary. The worship service that follows at 11:00 pm includes familiar Christmas Lessons, Carols, Christmas music from our Chancel Choir, Christmas Meditation, and Holy Communion.



 Special Social Events (Outside of Worship) During the Season


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 in early January after Epiphany Sunday (the closest Sunday to January 6th).



The Women’s Annual Christmas Tea happens on a Saturday in early December, 10 am to Noon in St. John’s Assembly Hall. It features tea & tea cakes at formally-dressed tables by candlelight, with music, speakers, & the singing of Christmas carols!  Our 2023 offering went to Women in Training.  More information on the Women’s Retreat page of this website. Note: Due to the pandemic, this event was not held 2019 – 2022 but returned in 2023 on December 2.



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 our publications.  After the Christmas Eve services they are distributed to home bound or those in need of some special Christmas blessings that year.



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 our publications.  See our Outreach Team page for more information about upcoming projects.


Our annual Warming Tree (in the Narthex from mid-November to Love Gift Sunday) collects scarves, caps, hats, gloves & mittens for distribution to UrbanPromise. 


Wrapping Presence  – St. John’s Volunteer Opportunity – December 14, 2023 

Church Council endorsed supporting a new project in 2023, the Wrapping Presence organization ( with volunteers to serve the residents at The Harborview Rehab & Care Center Lansdale in the distribution of holiday gifts so that the residents have gifts to give to their close ones. Wrapping Presence is looking for 20 Wrapping Buddies to assist the residents in selecting gifts (provided by Wrapping Presence) and wrapping them so that they have gifts to give when their close ones visit during the holidays. Wrapping Presence will provide experienced volunteers to guide St. John’s volunteers in assisting the residents. Some volunteers will have the opportunity to interact with the residents and help them select gifts (information on who they are selecting gifts for will be provided) while others, skilled in wrapping, will wrap presents and attach gift cards. The gifts will be placed in decorated gift bags (a WNL activity will be planned for bag decorating) for the residents to bring back to their rooms.

Please contact Bill Cagney for more information or assistance in signing up:
215.385.2882 (text) 215.641.4930 (home) 


For many years we held a Coat Drive to collect new or gently-used coats for distribution at CNOC UCC in Norristown, Living Water UCC in Philadelphia, and Urban Promise in Camden, NJ.  We had collected thousands of coats over the years.  Note: Due to the pandemic, this event has not been held since 2019.


Also, special Christmas collections and our Christmas offering gives donations to Bethany Children’s Home, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Veterans of the Cross, and Manna on Main Street. Check our publications for details.