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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Michael Diekhoff holds son K.J., 14 months, while singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” with wife Kathryn during a Christmas Eve service Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church of Fort Wayne.  

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Members of the children’s choir perform Sunday during a Christmas Eve service at Plymouth Congregational Church of Fort Wayne.   

Monday, December 25, 2017 1:00 am

Inspiration, unity on Christmas Eve

'Most holy of nights' celebrated

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

The prelude to Christmas can be frenzied, frantic chaos. Then, suddenly, the time for baking and decorating, shopping and wrapping is over.

And the sacred stillness of Christmas Eve arrives. 

Some families spend that time attending Christmas Eve services.

Plymouth Congregational Church, a United Church of Christ-affiliated congregation that worships downtown, conducted two such services on Sunday – one at 4 p.m. and one at 10 p.m.

The Rev. Ruth Phillips officiated the earlier service, which included candlelight and communion. About 100 people, including about 20 children, sang, prayed and worshipped together.

Phillips, who is associate pastor of the church, shared meditations tied to works by the nun and professional artist Mary Southard throughout Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The 4 p.m. service was the fifth, and last, in the series.

The painting that inspired her brief message Sunday was “Cosmic Birth,” an acrylic work on canvas that depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the stable being cradled in the loving hands of God. A bright, yellow star shines down on the scene from a cerulean blue sky.

The star of Bethlehem was the ancient equivalent of Facebook or Instagram, Phillips said, a means of making a dramatic and memorable announcement.

“Friends, on this most holy of nights, may we absorb the cosmic impact of this story,” she said following the scripture reading from the book of Luke. “May we always be ready to protect the weak and the vulnerable throughout the world.”

Plymouth's liberal Protestant denomination traces its roots to the Pilgrims and is known for pursuing social justice.

Katie Watson, who is the part-time Sunday School director, has been attending Christmas Eve services since she was a child. She remembers the beautiful, glowing candlelight from those evenings.

Sitting in a pew near the front, the married mother of two waited patiently for two beloved faces to appear. She didn't have to wait long. The service opened with a performance by the children's choir, which included her sons, 9-year-old Toby and 4-year-old Max.

Gayle Newton, a member since about 2000, adopted the tradition of attending Christmas Eve services when she joined the church. After the service, she planned to join good friends for dinner.

Karen Goss and Traci Hamilton were throwing that dinner party for six. The married couple enjoy attending the 4 p.m. service partly because the timing allows for an evening gathering afterward.

But that's not what motivates them to attend.

“If I have not gotten into the spirit (of Christmas) yet,” Hamilton said, “I think this service does it for me.”

Goss also enjoys catching up with college students and other young adults who are home for the holidays.

“The congregation here is like a big family, so it's nice to worship together,” she said.

Hamilton takes that feeling of family and applies it far beyond the sanctuary to the wider world. The sense of unity is too rare these days, when political differences have separated so many people, she said.

“I feel very connected to God at this service,” she said. “It gets me into the true spirit of Christmas.”