Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve at First UMC, Krum

Here in Krum, the snow was coming down heavily by 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Trustees appeared, braving the 40 mph winds and stinging snow. They strung a set of Christmas lights along the driveway to guide people into the parking lot and away from the drainage ditches. Others were inside, mopping up melting snow carried in, preparing for the services.

Our 4:00 service was intended especially for children, and they were given the opportunity to act out the story as I told it. Because of the weather, a number of our older members as well as about 20 visitors came as well. The worship center filled just to comfort level. As we spilled into the greeting area afterward for cookies and punch, we were shocked to see a foot-high snow drift in front of our main door. Drivers came under the portico to pick up children and slid to uneven stops. Even on our level parking lot, few left without some spinning of tires. Several people got stuck or had an otherwise very difficult time returning home. The phones rang unceasingly with reports.

I decided to have my worship director, Damon Downing, call all the musicians and choir members and tell them to stay home. I phoned all the others who were serving in any capacity at the 7:00 service and told them not to come. When I reached my verger, that faithful woman was out scraping her car, planning to show up and serve no matter what. One of my greeters, an 88 year young man from Denton, was also planning to brave the weather. They do love Jesus and their church. 

An informal church phone chain was formed, and a church wide email went out as well. At first, Damon and I planned to do an abbreviated service should anyone actually come at 7, but at 6:15, I suggested he leave as well. My husband, The Rev. J. Keith Cupples, was slowly making his way from Dallas and I figured the two of us could handle a service should someone come. 

At 6:55 p.m. a family originally from upstate New York fought their way through growing the snow drift outside the door into the greeting area. Keith walked in a minute later and I was grateful for his safe arrival. Both had seen multiple vehicles stuck in ditches on the sides of the rural roads here. 

The family that came have experienced significant challenges in the last few years and there are clearly more to come, so I was honored and touched to lead the very much stripped down service for them. They are not a singing family, so Keith's voice was our music, and the service was peaceful and powerful. An 18 month old toddler said a joyful "ooh" at the lighting of each candle and his innocent delight infected us all. After their departure, I wandered through the building, turning off lights and lowering thermostats. Keith then began to play the piano in the already dark worship center. I was just listening to him and enjoying the moment when I heard a commotion at the door. 

Entering were the two adult sons of my dear friend and former church secretary, Nancy Pollard, who had died just 48 hours before. Brian and John had come to check on me. We had talked earlier and they alone knew I would not be able to get home if Keith got stuck and could not get here. It had taken them three and a half hours to drive from Fort Worth. 

I had spent countless hours with this family this past six weeks helping them through these difficult end of life decisions. I offered soothing comfort to Nancy, as her brain became more and more clouded with the rapid, and now unchecked advance of cancer. In this way, I honored the promise I had made a year earlier to her that I would see her through the very end. In the process, I had become especially close to these men, who are just a few years older than my own three sons, all thousands of miles away this Christmas.

After some conversation, Brian and John requested Holy Communion. I quickly agreed, put out the communion elements and donned again my vestments. Their family flows with musical talent. Their dad, Marvin, has a Ph.D. in musical conducting. Nancy had a trained operatic voice and had sung in multiple performances around the United States. These two men shared in that talent, so the four of us, Brian and John, Keith and I, sang Christmas carols together. I tasted heaven as I listened to those three singing men harmonize with my small voice thrown in for the melody. We enjoyed together the power and love of the table of holy communion. The service ended in the already darkened and rapidly cooling worship space with candlelight and "Silent Night." Clearly, angels filled our space. Peace and hope transformed our joint sorrow and grief.

Keith drove me home over the slick, deserted streets, somehow getting up our ice-covered driveway, the steepest one in Krum. Snow drifts two and three feet high filled our back yard. We welcomed Christmas Day at midnight by worshipping together and toasting one another with a exquisite glass of wine given to us by a friend. It was a glorious Christmas Eve here in Krum.

The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas, Pastor
First UMC, Krum
"A Pastor's Thoughts:"

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