Making my kids go to church on Christmas morning

Pastor/parents are faced with a conundrum this year: do they force (or strongly encourage) their children to go to Sunday worship on Christmas? Andrew Taylor Troutman has decided yes, and here’s why.

Photo by Gavin Tyte on Unsplash

Life’s easy when your parent is a pastor — said no preacher’s kid ever! Having grown up as a PK (preacher’s kid), I have empathy for my own children’s plight. Sure, there are a few perks when you are young, such as weekday access to the toys in the nursery. Maybe someone slips you extra cookies in the fellowship hall. But the cookie crumbles, the luster of basking in the glow of extra attention fades.

Just a year ago, my son bragged to his kindergarten class, “My dad is the boss of the church!” But this year, such illusions of grandeur have burned down faster than Clark Griswold’s Christmas tree. His dad is making him go to church … on Christmas morning! Oh, the unfairness of it! No one else has such cruel parents!

“It’s all because you’re the pastor,” he accused me.

He’s not wrong, but I’ll let you in on the truth as long (as you can keep a secret). I had actually planned to let the kids stay home on Christmas with my parents. My dad has recently retired from 40 years of ministry — he’s earned the morning off! In addition to their excitement with their new toys, I recognize that my children would rather relax in their pajamas. They don’t want to go anywhere.

My plans changed, however, during my biweekly breakfast with my colleague and friend. He serves a local Black Baptist church. Our congregations have met regularly over the past several years, including for Sunday afternoon worship services. He and I have also exchanged pulpits. But we’ve never combined services to one location on Sunday morning, the most segregated hour in America.

Until we made plans for Christmas.

Before the pandemic, his congregation hosted children from a local orphanage on Christmas Day. They had an abbreviated worship service – which, knowing their tradition, was still longer than my usual service! – and then host Christmas brunch. There would also be gifts for their guests.

This is the first year since the COVID-19 outbreak that they are resuming this tradition and he invited us to join them. My session enthusiastically agreed. I’ve had more than one parishioner exclaim, “This is exactly what Christmas should be about!”

My children beg to differ: “Dad, this is going to be the worst Christmas ever!”

Again, I empathize with them. But from my own experience growing up in the church, some of the most meaningful experiences were the very same situations that I initially protested — early mornings at the clothing drive, youth trips to the assisted living facility. I was forced to attend and I’m sure I complained, loud and long. Yet, those experiences were formative for my faith. Even if I hadn’t become a pastor, the people I encountered helped to shape the person I am today.

I asked my dad if he made my younger brother and me attend church on Christmas morning. He laughed and shook his head. I know that, as a parent, you have to pick your battles. Then again, when I was growing up, there wasn’t the same kind of opportunity that my kids have this year. Maybe they’ll begrudge everything about it, save the doughnuts in the fellowship hall.

But maybe they will remember this experience long after they forget what toys they received from Santa.