At First Church, we had a lovely Christmas Eve service every year ending at midnight. Just as the tower bells tolled midnight (yes, even Methodists can have real bells!), the congregation would complete lighting our candles while singing the many, many verses of Silent Night. We passed the light throughout the congregation as Catholics do at Easter Vigil; it was lovely and moving indeed. Then, singing these beloved verses, we would spill into the streets of downtown Houston, eventually filling Clay Street in front of the building. As we sang, many cars drove by on their way to or from the bars and parties taking place downtown. I always thought of the "angel on the shoulder" of those who witnessed the hundreds of us standing there with our candles and thought, for a moment, of the true meaning of Christmas.
At some point, a couple of years into my membership there, I became drawn to a public chapel in the Galleria area of Houston. I worked nearby at the time and at lunch, I used to visit the chapel for a moment of quiet reflection. It is an ecumenical chapel, built in a lovely outdoor space, but to get there, I passed by a large Catholic church. I often noted the office workers filing in or out of the building for daily mass and longed for such an expression of my faith. One day as I was leaving my little chapel in the woods, I noticed on the church sign the times for Midnight Mass. I casually mentioned this to a friend of mine in the Singles at First Church, and he confessed that for the past several years, he had been attending midnight Mass at that very worship space instead of our own Methodist congregation. Hmmm.
That Christmas, I ditched the Christmas Eve service at First Church and headed for Mass. I was very nervous. It was my first time in a Catholic church since I had been in Junior High; I had never been there alone. I knew I could not receive the Eucharist but I simply wanted to be there. I watched those sitting near me for when to kneel and when to stand, I sang with the hymns. I was surprised there was no passing of the candle flame; it would be a few years before I learned that is a part of Easter Vigil.
I was changed as I walked out that night. I would never have dreamed that I would one day be Catholic but I felt a kinship to the Catholic church that would remain with me always.
Tonight as I prepare my children for the Christmas Eve vigil, I will be mindful that the true magic of Christmas is not Santa Clause, but the birth of the baby born in a lowly manger. I can't wait to show my little ones the creche and to hear their wonder as we enter a building transformed from the starkness of advent to the brightness Christmas.
I hope the wonder of Christmas is alive in your hearts tonight.
Part Three of my story
Part Four of my story
Part Five of my story