One of the most successful missionary efforts I’ve seen in my part of the world has been the annual Christmas Eve Musical Devotional sponsored by the Appleton Second Ward in Wisconsin. It’s just one hour long, typically from 4 PM to 5 PM, to give families time to be home for the evening. It’s not preachy, but emphasizes outstanding musical performances with some short Christ-centered readings interspersed throughout the program.
We expect over 300 people to attend each year, including dozens of non-members and less active members from all over the region and members from several wards. It fills a real need for a worshipful experience on Christmas Eve, and adds tremendous beauty to the occasion. It’s become so successful that people clamor for a chance to participate, complicating the heavy task of running this program and keeping it brief. Many thanks to my highly talented friend, Brother Dale Jepson, who was the inspiration for this program and has personally led it to success each year, taking on huge burdens to do so. His leadership has created a success that has touched many people. Indeed, for many it is a spiritual highlight of the year.
We found that running a purely optional devotional on Christmas Eve was controversial. Out West, apparently, many LDS people grew up with the notion that the Church should never schedule anything on Christmas Eve because it was sacred family time. That’s one of those “unwritten rules” or urban legends that ought to be discarded. As for sacred family time, a few minutes of sharing sacred, uplifting music has proven to be a healthy thing – in fact, a wonderful tradition now – for my family, and I look forward to this year’s event again.
When I lived out West, I also heard that Christmas Eve was off limits just to have a time when Church leaders could take a break. The way Brother Jepson (with his good family) runs the program, it’s almost zero-stress for the leaders (thanks to all his hard work and preparation). The program began when I was Bishop, and I only had to show up and read a simply passage and perhaps add a few improvised remarks. Other leaders and members that don’t want to participate are free to stay home.
Is the Church doing anything like this on Christmas Eve in your neck of the woods? If not, perhaps it’s time to follow our example. Christmas Eve is the ideal time, in my opinion, especially for those who grew up in other churches with a tradition of Christmas Eve worship. But to make it successful, you need someone with a lot of musical experience and taste, a lot of energy, who you can trust to get a difficult job done. Put that person in charge, make the mission clear, give them many months to plan and prepare, and then get out of the way and let the musical miracles occur. If you’re interested, I’m sure I can get you in touch with our local experts and pass some program ideas on to you.