Advent & Christmas at St. John’s

 

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 second Sunday of Advent we celebrate our White Gift Service, our best-attended service of the year, which includes a traditional Christmas story pageant (see more below). On Christmas Eve, we celebrate with two services, the family service at 5:00 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 – 10:30 am.  

 

 

White Gift Service – Our Christmas Season Traditional Service, Held Each Year on the Second Sunday of Advent

 

The White Gift Service has been a beloved 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 of all ages and kinds to church with you on the second Sunday of December, the day we hold only one service at 10:15 am.  All sorts of appropriate gifts are welcome, but toys and clothing for children & youth are especially appreciated.  Gifts should be wrapped in plain white paper & clearly marked on the outside in ink with regard to size, gender & age range for whom the gift would be most appropriate. (Example: “Teenage boy” or “Girl age 6-8” or “Man size Large.”)  The list below was our suggested gift list for 2020:

 

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 are brought forward by the congregation as we sing familiar traditional Christmas carols & handed to the children participating in the program, who stack them around the ‘holy family’. 

 

After the service the packages are sorted for distribution to folks in need at two designated locations: Old First Church UCC in center city Philadelphia, & Urban Promise in Camden, NJ.  These organizations greatly appreciate our generosity each year.  

 

After Worship on White Gift Sunday:  There is always a special Fellowship Time with special refreshments and time for fellowship, along with a Soup and Christmas Cookie Sale. in our Assembly Hall. Volunteers to bake cookies are always welcome – watch our November-December publications for details.

 

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. 
 
 
 
 
PHOTOS OF OUR RECENT WHITE GIFT SERVICE ‘HOLY FAMILIES’
 
 
 
 
                         
                                                             
 
 
  
                                        CHRISTMAS EVE – DECEMBER 24th
 

Our Family Service is held at 5:00 pm with special music offered by the Sunday School Classes, the Cherub and Junior Choirs and the inter-generational ensemble United Voices.  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.

 

 

 CHRISTMAS DAY –  DECEMBER 25th

 

Our sanctuary is open on Christmas Day from 8:30 am to 10:30 am with a pastor leading the celebration of Holy Communion.  (Note: If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, then one worship service is held at 9:30 am, otherwise if Christmas is not on a Sunday, there is no formal worship service on Christmas Day). 

 

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 2019 offering went to Hope for Health, a program which focuses on the needs of girls and women in Haiti.  More information on the Women’s Retreat page of this website.

 

 

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.

 

 

The annual Christmas breakfast in the Assembly Hall is held the 3rd 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. A raffle of Christmas-related gifts and items is also held during the breakfast hours.

 

 

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 Mitten Tree (in the Narthex from mid-November to early December) collects scarves, caps, hats, gloves & mittens for distribution in their communities by our friends at Urban Promise, CNOC UCC & Living Water UCC.

 

 

Many years we hold 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 have collected thousands of coats over the years.

 

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, and gift cards for our pastors to distribute for those with special needs during the year.  Check our publications for details.