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Joy to the World Reimagined for Comox Valley
  By Jessie Schut, past convener of
the Joy to the World Committee at Comox Valley Presbyterian Church on Vancouver Island, B.C.
Like many other churches, Comox Valley Presbyterian Church (CVPC) on Vancouver Island, B.C., is an ag- ing congregation. Our members are eager to be missional, but we are lim- ited by diminishing energy.
In 2014, a number of members ap- proached Session with an outreach idea that seemed suitable for our congregation. The idea was to host an exhibit of nativity sets from around the world and invite the community in to view them. Congregation mem- bers would loan sets for display, help with the set up and act as hosts and hostesses. We would call the event “Joy to the World.”
Session approved the idea with enthusiasm and provided a small
budget. When the idea was present- ed to the congregation, enough peo- ple came forward to create a working committee to organize the event. We decided to invite seniors and those with mobility issues to come on a Friday afternoon for a viewing and tea. We also decided to have a chil- dren’s craft area and provide live and recorded music.
The first Joy to the World exhibit was held on the weekend before Christmas in 2014. The event was publicized by posters around town and in an article that appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. We gathered 100 nativity sets from congregation members and from people in the community who had heard about the event and wanted to participate. We sent out invitations to local seniors’ homes and residences. When we opened the doors to the community, we were overwhelmed
The Ghory family in the dress-up room in 2017.
 The Comox Valley Presbyterian Church “Joy to the World” event in 2018.
Outdoor House Church Gatherings in Uxbridge
The Rev. Jenn Geddes and husband, Mike, in the dress-up room in 2018.
 by the response. More than 200 peo- ple attended and left glowing com- ments in the guest book.
Joy to the World has been held every year since then, and each year, something new has been added: a darkened display room for lighted sets, live music provided by many folk in the Comox Valley, scheduled classroom visits with a dress-up room to create live nativity scenes, a scavenger hunt, and special craft activities, such as decorating nativity cookies. One year, the local photog- raphy club came in and produced a beautiful four-minute video, which we have since used to publicize the event. About 500 people attended our 2019 event. CVPC has become known as the church that has the na- tivity display. We are so happy to be able to share the message of the first Christmas in such a beautiful way.
And now it is 2020, and we are preparing to celebrate Christmas amid a global pandemic. Given the circumstances, how can we host an
exhibit which might see hundreds of people coming through our doors in the span of two days? And yet, how can we not, when it is an event that has become such a valued part of the community? When our commit- tee met in September, we faced these questions head-on. Although some of us came to the meeting resigned to cancelling the event, as we talked and shared our concerns, new ideas came to the surface. Surely this is what happens when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name!
What if we hosted this event in a smaller format over a longer period of time—even throughout Advent? What if we asked our visitors to make appointments to view the exhibit, and limited the number of people who could come at any one time? What if we created a one-way path, so that people entered at one door and exited at another? What if we cancelled the crafts, the senior’s tea and the live music, but created a virtual recording to be posted on our website for those
who could not attend? What if we augmented this virtual visit with sto- ries, a message from the pastor and music performed by members of our congregation? What if we prepared a kit of activities for the schools that had been attending our display, and for any other parents who had been bringing their children every year?
We are not sure, yet, which of these ideas is going to become re- ality. The virtual recording is doable, and perhaps in-person visits will also be possible. We know we have to be flexible in our thinking, prepared to change everything at a moment’s notice. The pandemic is teaching us that nothing is set in stone, that change can be helpful, that we are here to serve our community in what- ever way we can. We have learned to think outside the box, and to rely on the Spirit’s guidance. Feel free to keep checking our website—cvpc. ca—for updates. We will post our digital version once it is completed.
    By the Rev. Sean Astop, St. Andrew’s- Chalmers Presbyterian Church in Uxbridge, Ont.
For St. Andrew’s-Chalmers Presby- terian Church in Uxbridge, Ont., the spring of 2020 was to be a very busy time. Our casual and conversational Café Worship gatherings were ready to kick off a new season. A team of volunteers was set to start a Messy Church program for families in May, a Vacation Bible Camp was set for
July and plans for a Dinner Church were also in the works.
All of these plans came to a halt when the pandemic hit. Like many churches, we shifted our focus to embrace technology by live stream- ing services on YouTube, hosting coffee chats via Zoom and offering other programming for the church and community to engage with on- line. Yet our desire to gather in new ways and in new spaces wasn’t put on hold.
Bev O’Hearn and the Rev. Sean Astop serving communion.
Barry and Lois Crane, Samira Gebhardt and the Rev. Sean Astop having a conversation.
When a church member offered to host an outdoor church gathering on her back veranda, we jumped at the invitation. The covered outdoor space allowed for us to meet in a
safe way. Initially, it was a simple gathering of leaders with the purpose of conversing, praying and discern- ing God’s leading. Yet, a few weeks after starting, others joined and we
began a more intentional form of gathering that included communion.
We soon sensed God leading us to start considering the needs of sen- Continued on page 45

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