If the miraculous happens this year--i.e., Christmas gift buying, wrapping and grocery shopping are finished well before the evening of the 24th--a fair number of people with Christian upbringing may decide to attend Christmas-week church services.
Regular worshipers know whether their parish or congregation holds Christmas Eve services.
But the more infrequent churchgoer should be advised that not all Protestant churches hold evening services on Dec. 24 and that, whereas virtually all Roman Catholic parishes celebrate a midnight Mass, it is best to arrive early for a seat in a pew at the most popular parishes.
It is "packed and standing room only," for instance, for the Christmas Masses at two Catholic parishes where noted director-conductor Paul Salamunovich leads the choirs--the Wilshire District's St. Basil Church at 637 S. Kingsley Drive and St. Charles Borromeo, 10828 Moorpark St., in North Hollywood. The choirs sing carols for about a half-hour before the midnight Mass.
Since Salamunovich cannot be at both churches, he said that an associate would lead the 30-voice choir at St. Basil's while he will conduct the 60-voice choir in the North Hollywood parish. The St. Charles choir has appeared at the Music Center, recorded for motion picture segments and was once featured in a Christmas television special with bandleader Doc Severinsen.
In Manhattan Beach, the entire altar area of American Martyrs Catholic Church, 624 15th St., will be transformed by Christmas Eve into a Nativity manger scene with painted backdrops suggesting ancient Bethlehem. This will be the third year the church has erected the elaborate creche, a spokesman said. A large crowd is expected at the midnight Mass.
But at both American Martyrs and St. Charles, and likely at many other Catholic parishes, there are earlier Christmas Eve Masses for those who prefer a more informal service. Masses employing folk guitar music are scheduled at 5 p.m. at American Martyrs and at 7 p.m. at St. Charles.
Some other churches also offer multiple Christmas Eve services. The following sampling includes only a few well-known churches.
The Crystal Cathedral, bedecked with hundreds of poinsettia plants and a 50-foot Christmas tree, will hold seven Christmas Eve services at 1 1/2-hour intervals, starting at 3 p.m. and ending with a midnight service. Founding Pastor Robert H. Schuller is scheduled to speak at all seven candlelight services at the Garden Grove facility.
Swann to Direct
The 110-member Crystal Cathedral Choir will be under the direction of Fred Swann, who will also play the church's large organ in conjunction with instrumentalists and hand-bell choirs.
All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, will have three Christmas Eve services: a family gathering featuring children's choirs at 4 p.m. and Christmas Eucharists at 7:30 and 11 p.m. According to All Saints spokesmen, the 4 and 11 p.m. services are traditionally the most crowded; seating may be more available at the 7:30 service.
All Saints' Coventry Choir and Chamber Orchestra will perform "Mozart Missa Brevis in D 'Nowell,' " by John Joubert, at 7 p.m., preceding the 7:30 service, and Johann Sebastian Bach's "Magnificat" at 10:30 p.m., preceding the 11 p.m. Eucharist. Rector George Regas will tell a Christmas story for children at the family service and preach at the two evening services.
There is no sermon during the candlelight service at the imposing First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, 540 S. Commonwealth Ave. The Cathedral Choir will sing "Christmas Cantata" by Daniel Pinkham, accompanied by brass and organ, at 10:30 p.m. The 11 p.m. service consists primarily of Scripture readings and carols and ends with worshipers walking out with lighted candles in hand.
A much smaller church, Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, will try to accommodate the expected visitors with three identical candlelight carol services on Christmas Eve, at 7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., each time preceded by 30-minute musical preludes.
One feature of the chapel's annual service is the entry of Mary and Joseph to take their places in a manger tableau. Near the end of the service, worshipers light their candles from those of Mary and Joseph, and join in the singing of "Silent Night." The glass-walled, glass-roofed church is at 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South, one mile east of Marineland.
The Rev. James Cleveland, a nationally known gospel recording artist, will lead an hourlong 11 p.m. service at the church he pastors, Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church, 1815 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles. The doors open at 10 p.m.
The neo-Gothic Westwood United Methodist Church, 10497 Wilshire Blvd., is the site for two Christmas Eve services, both lasting about an hour. The first, at 7 p.m., is a family-oriented service of caroling, hand-bell choir music and a brief meditation illustrated with a three-screen slide show. The 11 p.m. service features music by a brass ensemble and harpist, carols, Scripture readings and a short meditation by Pastor James Lockwood-Stewart.
Carols and candles will also be featured at the 7 p.m. service Wednesday at First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, 2936 West 8th St., but the liberal congregation's service has a broader seasonal scope. "The service will value each of the special religious holidays of this season--Hanukkah, Christmas and the Winter Solstice.