Headlights replace candles, honks replace “Amens,” and Christmas joy still comes to the world

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (December 24, 2020) – About 30 carloads of local parishioners braved the coldest night Lansing has seen since February and congregated in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church at 7:00pm Christmas Eve. A Christmas Eve Candlelight Service is one of the traditions Pastor Dave Price and the First United faithful have modified this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the enhancements to the Christmas Eve service this year was the addition of two other churches. Lansing Assembly and Lighthouse Community Church had both partnered with First United Methodist in the December 19 food and toy drive, and Price invited them to share Christmas Eve as well. First United has been holding parking lot services since April, so Price has a system for flowing the traffic, spacing the cars, running audio, and creating a sense of socially-distant-yet-meaningful fellowship. Pastor Jonathan Vitale of Lansing Assembly was glad to participate, and Pastor Nate Smith had been looking forward to it until other work commitments got in the way.

Pastor Jonathan Vitale of Lansing Assembly read the Christmas account from the Bible to the congregation of cars. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Pastor Dave Price of First United Methodist Church preached a short, hope-filled Christmas Eve sermon. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Acknowledging that Christmas will certainly be different for many families this year, Pastor Dave reminded the faithful that circumstances surrounding the first Christmas weren’t idyllic either. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

In a normal year, the Christmas Eve service takes place in the sanctuary, and the lights are dimmed following the sermon, leaving only the Advent candles to illuminate the darkness. Light from the Christ candle is then passed to the parishioners’ candles, and as they share the light with each other, the room brightens. To recreate the symbolism for the outdoor service, Pastor Dave asked all the cars to turn off their headlights and interior lights. Pastor Jonathan then brought one of the battery-operated Advent candles to each car, signaling it to turn on its headlights.

Starting at the east edge of the parking lot, Pastor Jonathan symbolically tapped each vehicle with an electric candle, signaling it to turn on its headlights. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

As the light was passed from car to car, accompanist Ruth Smith played “Silent Night,” and parishioners sang four verses:

  1. Silent night, holy night
    All is calm, all is bright
    Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
    Holy Infant so tender and mild
    Sleep in heavenly peace
    Sleep in heavenly peace

  2. Silent night, holy night
    Shepherds quake at the sight
    Glories stream from heaven afar
    Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia
    Christ the Savior is born
    Christ the Savior is born

  3. Silent night, holy night
    Son of God, love’s pure light
    Radiant beams from Thy holy face
    With the dawn of redeeming grace
    Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
    Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

  4. Silent night, holy night,
    wondrous star, lend thy light;
    with the angels let us sing,
    Alleluia to our King;
    Christ the Savior is born,
    Christ the Savior is born!

Pastor Dave offered a few remarks about his hopes for the coming year, and the congregation honked in affirmation, following with the four verses of “Joy to the World.” He then sent the congregants forth with this benediction:

“Go now in wonder. Go to bring light to those in darkness, joy to those who can find no joy, magic to a world steeped in realism. Go with the songs of angels in your ears and the love of God in your hearts. Go and spread the word, the Babe of Bethlehem is born for all.”

With “Go Tell it On the Mountain” joyously and jazzily ringing from Ruth Smith’s piano, the cars began slowly filing out of the parking lot into the night.

Pastor Dave exchanged Christmas blessings with parishioners as they departed. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

First United Methodist Church is located at 18420 Burnham Avenue in Lansing, Illinois.

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