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Clergy put in long hours to prepare for Christmas services
Father Thad Rudd, right, offers a blessing Friday while Deacon Ken Lampert assists during Christmas morning Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville. Christmas is one of the busiest days of the year for many churches. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For most, Christmas is a chance to take time off work and relax with friends and family.

But for clergy at local churches, Christmas can be one of the busiest work days of the year.

“You don’t realize everything that goes into it,” said the Rev. Terry Walton of First United Methodist Church in Gainesville. “It takes a lot of work.”

Walton worked all year to prepare for the church’s five services on Christmas Eve.

“I was planning sermons in April,” Walton said. “We’ve had a lot of meetings with the music and clergy staff.”

Walton said the goal is to have seamless worship services and make the attendees as comfortable as possible.

“More people from the community in which you serve will attend church on Christmas Eve than even on Easter,” Walton said. “So it’s a tremendous opportunity to express God’s love and kindness to people.”

Rev. Doug Dailey, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, said he and his congregation started preparing for Christmas a month ago.

“Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas Day,” Dailey said. “This approach is used by the liturgical churches.”

Advent is a spiritual period during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

“Advent really invites reflection on the second coming of Jesus as redeemer and judge as well as preparing to celebrate his first coming and his birth in Bethlehem,” Dailey said.

Dailey said the special services and music around Christmas take quite a bit of work.

“The month leading up to Christmas is a very busy time,” Dailey said.

Church schedules vary depending on the denomination and many have multiple services, which can be hectic for clergy and church volunteers. For example, St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville held six services throughout the day on Christmas.

But Walton said planning “all the details down from the candles to the sermon” is worth it.

“When I go home about 12:30, 1 o’clock on Christmas morning, it’s a good tired,” Walton said. “You feel like you’ve been a part of something special.”