When Joel was serving a church in NE Montana he came up with an idea to try something different, and began holding "barn services" on Christmas Eve. He would find a member of the church or community who was willing to let us have services in their barn. All cows, sheep, cats and dogs welcome! And of course, people, too! The owners would clean up the barn as best they could, often putting out straw bales to be used for benches. This became a very popular service for families ~ the kids loved it. They were able to interact with the animals, and the adults were given a sense of what it must have been like the night Jesus was born in a manger.
Without heat, everyone would bundle up to attend. I do remember one year when the service was held just an hour north of the Twin Cities where Joel was serving a church. The media somehow became aware of it and asked if they could come film the service. Joel let them come, but they could not interfere with worship. The film of the service was picked up by the associated press and friends in Georgia read about the service in their local newspaper! We had to chuckle over their write up because they said the pastor "dressed to play the part", wearing boots and a cowboy hat. Okay then. Joel has dressed in that attire for more years than I can count, but they had no idea he was not dressing the part for a barn service!
It was our family's favorite service, with good memories about the times when the cows did not excuse themselves to use the bathroom, or they would often try to interrupt Joel's sermon with their own. One year a donkey brayed throughout the service, in competition with Joel. Often as we sang the familiar Christmas hymns the cows sang along with the congregation.....making their voices heard!
It was a unique service and a joy for our family to participate in. For approximately 27 years Joel held Christmas Eve 4 pm services in barns in Montana, Minnesota, and Iowa. It was one of the best experiences in his ministry.
We will not be worshiping in a barn this Christmas but in a beautifully decorated church. They both are places people will gather to worship the reason for this season. Jesus. A time to celebrate the birth of a Savior for the world over 2000 years ago. A time to gather together with friends and family. A time for memories to fill our hearts with joy. Wishing you peace!
Renee and Joel