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The way we gather matters

Opinion

Christmas lunch is either something you look forward to or something you dread. The food, the company, the conversations, the gift exchange; a lot of it hinges on both the choices you make and the people you are with. Are we gathering out of obligation or with love? How well do we know the people around the table? How could we make time with family and friends more meaningful?

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Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering says that ‘a part of the art of gathering is to get people off their scripts and do things that are unexpected’. As we gather for the third Christmas since learning the word ‘COVID’, we must acknowledge that each person’s experience is unique. Trauma, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, loss, illness are all very real and significant in some people’s lives.

Once we know who we are again as a family or community, after sharing our collective story and assessing what we want to hold on to and what we can let go of, then we are able to gather meaningfully. The Christmas dinner may need to allow time for people to share their pain and we can make room for that. We might offer to lower budgets for gift exchanges to be accommodating of others’ situation. Giving your loved ones permission to gather on a different day to avoid large groups or inviting someone to the table who has been absent from your life are all ways to ‘get people off their script’.

In the same way that we have traditions around gathering at the table on Christmas day, many of us feel drawn to gather at a different type of table. It may be the only time we walk through the doors of a church but there’s a familiarity and a sense of necessity to truly feel like Christmas is upon us.

There’s something about midnight Mass; it’s slightly off-script from the regular Sunday service and because every pew is almost guaranteed to be filled, it feels safer to walk in, a buzz in the air. The familiar carols, the candles, the tired children who are trying to spot Santa in the sky, these are all part of our Christmas church experience. Whether we are drawn there by tradition or obligation or with an open heart for God to enter, it is a time to gather in peace before all the presents and food with the Spirit there amongst us. We gather at the table both at church and at home. We listen to the story of Jesus coming to this world and the story of our loved ones. We make room and share a meal. There is wonder, joy, peace and the angels sing as we set out to welcome Jesus into our hearts and homes.

Creating a safe space for others to enter your home or the church with a no-strings-attached invitation goes a long way. When we invite friends over for dinner it would be weird to then say, ‘Great! Let’s do this again every Sunday!’ If there is something on offer though, an experience for the children or an act of service that helps a family; a fun activity or a connection with others that people are craving, that is what will prompt people to ask if they can join you again. True connection with others and uniting in the presence of love is what nourishes our spirit. We want to welcome people this Christmas season both in our homes and at church with generosity, openness, and a willingness to listen. A genuine invitation to gather at the table.

Lauren Bierer is liturgy educator with the Office for Worship.

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