PRINCETON, MN (December 17, 2009) – Some churches stage fantastic Christmas extravaganzas that are months in the making and require hundreds of musicians, singers, and actors. Not Karmel Covenant Church.
They are a small rural congregation, so the church hosts Simply Christmas Eve. It has become a hit with the community.
Roughly 130 people attend weekly services, but the Christmas Eve service has drawn as many as 300, depending on the weather, says Pastor Alan Johnson.
Karmel started the tradition four years ago. The church decided to do the service in a barn, and members Carl and Phyllis Anderson offered the use of their empty hayloft.
Two new stairways were built to accommodate the gathering, and the church sent postcards and offered personal invitations. Then they waited to see what would happen.
It proved to be one of those “If you build it, they will come” moments.
“The first time we did Simply Christmas Eve we were amazed by the number of cars streaming in as we received an overflow crowd,” Johnson says. “Now we prepare for a packed house with plenty of cookies and hot cider, several warm campfires where some choose to linger afterwards, and gift bags for every guest family.”
Guests arrive as the sun recedes, and they make their way along a snowy path bordered by a hundred luminaries. The service begins at 4:30 p.m. and lasts only half an hour.
Of course, the barn has to include a nativity scene. “The nativity is positioned so every guest has a good view of this quaint and meaningful scene, with a straw filled stable, a combination of live and cut-out animals, and young men and women in full costume,” says Johnson.
That also can make for some interesting unplanned moments. “Last year,” Johnson explains, “one of the sheep baaa’d just as we came to the last notes of a favorite carol, bringing delightful laughter from the crowd.”
A lone guitarist and several singers lead the music, which includes carols interspersed with the reading of Luke’s gospel.
“Each year we see new faces among the familiar ones,” Johnson says. “Simply Christmas Eve brings back memories of a simpler time, and creates new memories for our children.”