Thursday, December 8, 2005

Some the region’s largest evangelical churches have canceled Sunday services on Christmas Day. Church leaders said yesterday that the main reason for closing is that activities such as gift exchanges and family travel will keep parishioners away and that volunteers need a break — especially after the big Saturday services. “After much discussion … we felt that it was a way just to encourage folks who are celebrating with their families not to feel torn between [Christmas Day activities] and coming on Sunday,” said Joshua Harris, head pastor of the Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg. The church, which has about 3,200 members, instead will have Friday night and Christmas Eve services, he said. “This wasn’t an easy decision because we really value our Sunday services [but] we didn’t feel like we were sacrificing worship,” Mr. Harris said. He further defended the decision by saying the church rarely cancels services because of bad weather. “We stand our ground for that,” he said. Two other megachurches in the area — National Community Church in the District and Frontline, a part of McLean Bible Church in McLean — also have canceled Christmas Day services but will hold Christmas Eve services. “We don’t see it as shrinking it, but as shifting it around,” said Denny Harris, a spokesman for the McLean church. Frontline, which attracts college students and young professionals, also will hold a Friday night service. “Most of our congregation heads home for Christmas, and home is not D.C. [and] because of that we scale back a little bit just to give our volunteers a break,” said Mark Batterson, head pastor of National Community Church. The church, which has about 1,000 members and holds services in the AMC movie theater in Union Station, has yet to determine where it will hold the Christmas Eve service. Most of the Christian churches that traditionally hold their weekly service on Sunday will be open despite the holiday. Some will hold extra services. “We understand Sunday to be the Lord’s day,” said Mike Law, a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Northeast. “The intention is that the Lord’s people gather and learn about Him and worship Him and honor Him … no matter what day that falls on.” Catholic churches are among those planning to add services to accommodate the expected increase in attendance. Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdioceses of Washington, said Christmas Day is one of five Catholic Church holidays known as “days of obligation” on which followers are required to attend Mass. “Christmas is a time to be with family and a time to celebrate Christ’s birth,” she said. “We do both at the same time.” Leaders at Foundry United Methodist Church in Northwest take pride in always having their doors open, said head pastor Dean Snyder. “We have services every Sunday come hell or high water,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine people closing down on Sunday morning because it’s Christmas. We will extend an invitation to anyone who wants to worship Christmas morning and their church is closed. They can come here.”

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