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LOS ANGELES: We're closing for Christmas, say giant US churches

LOS ANGELES: We're closing for Christmas, say giant US churches

By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles


Many American "megachurches", huge Christian ministries with thousands-strong congregations, have horrified traditionalists by closing on Christmas Day.

Sunday services on Dec 25 are being cancelled because clergy fear attendance will be poor. Worshippers are instead being encouraged to spend the day with their families.

Critics within the evangelical community are aghast, especially as they are already fighting what they see as the festival's secularisation.

Although many of the rapidly-growing megachurches do not usually hold Christmas Day worship, it is extremely rare for Christian churches to cancel Sunday services.

As an alternative, multiple services will be held in the run up to December 25.

"This is a consumer mentality at work: 'Let's not impose the church on people. Let's not make church in any way inconvenient,' " said David Wells, a professor of history and theology in Massachusetts.

"What this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing."

Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, one of the six largest US churches with a weekend attendance of nearly 22,000, is among those closing its doors.

"At first glance it does sound contrarian," the Rev. Gene Appel, its senior pastor, said. "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralising the church on Christmas: hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees.

"The best way to honour Jesus's birth is for families to have a more personal experience on that day."

Christmas Sunday services were not the most effective use of staff and volunteers, a spokesman said.

Other megachurches closing on Christmas Day are in Kentucky, Texas, Georgia and Michigan.

"We feel that Christmas is definitely a time that should be spent with family,"said Kris McNeil of Michigan's Mars Hill Bible Church.

Cindy Willison, a spokesman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church, near Chicago, said at least 500 volunteers were needed, plus staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 worshippers. Many volunteers appreciated the chance to spend Christmas with their families.

The closures contrast starkly with Roman Catholic parishes, which see some of their largest congregations at Christmas, and Protestant ministries, such as the Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran churches, where Sunday services are hardly ever cancelled.

The number of megachurches in America, defined as non-Catholic congregations of at least 2,000 people, has soared from 10 in 1970 to an estimated 800 today.

Many function like corporations, running businesses such as publishing houses.


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