The ‘Big’ Christmas Pageant

The ‘Big’ Christmas Pageant

“Children and adults get the power of committed, shared work.  Sharing in committed work, working together, and taking specific responsibility in work are crucial to Christian formation.”



The Blessings of Big
Christmas is often a frantically busy time for families. And for some, the annual Christmas pageant adds to the stress. But there is another story that makes some of us passionate (and even evangelistic) about choosing a labor-intensive pageant with casting, memorized lines, rehearsals and all.  Children (or an inter-generational cast) in a pageant have a “unique opportunity to communicate the Gospel lesson to the community in a special way.”

I don’t know if stress-free pageants are a trend.  My twenty-plus years work with some really dedicated lay leaders developing a pageant tradition at St. Gregory’s of Nyssa in San Francisco moved me (and some of those dedicated leaders) to begin offering an annual Pageant Production Workshop in the Diocese of California.

What we help people see and imagine is that: A labor intensive production that involves a wide circle from the parish community and beyond is a powerful opportunity for Christian formation, for trying new ways of relating to one another, for trusting participants of many ages and stages of experiences with real responsibility, and for giving people the profound satisfaction of making something holy together.

Issues to Remember
Whether we make a high or low investment in production, the issues of hospitality, hierarchical authority, and children’s anxiety are important. Other concepts to keep in mind are:

Offering our best in a performance that’s genuinely an offering and a sharing and not how ever many egos’ time in the spotlight,

Not making an idol of perfection (so, learning to forgive one another’s mistakes)

Listening to children’s hopes and expectations beyond parents’ imagining or what children are feeling

Helping parents get beyond the natural competition that emerges as we want to show off our children.

But actually any community that shares leadership in the liturgy, especially if it shares that leadership with children and intergenerationally (as a pageant does) will face all these.

The Pageant at St. Gregory’s
When we started building a pageant tradition at St. Gregory’s, the congregation was just a couple of years old and we were small.  Our first Pageant Liturgy we were under thirty in church on Christmas Eve, including pageant cast and visiting grandparents.  We modeled pageant production on the significant shared work our congregation was putting in to produce Holy Week and Easter.

Gradually the pageants grew until many people, probably fifty or so, were directly involved in producing the pageant including all the support volunteers.  And over the years that the pageant grew, the Christmas Eve Pageant Liturgy also grew to equal St. Gregory’s Easter Vigil in attendance, about 350 people in church.

What Parents Say
A few years into building the St. Gregory’s pageant tradition, we began to hear parents thanking us for redefining their family’s experience of Christmas. Here are some comments that I have heard:

“The children’s attention isn’t on what presents they’re going to get.”  

“They’re asking when pageant rehearsals are going to begin and thinking about what parts they feel ready to take on.”  

“Pageant production and the pageant liturgy define have put the Christmas story central in our family’s Christmas.”

A Shared Work
Obviously there are choices to be made, and in places that feel they “must have” a Christmas Pageant but don’t want the work of production, stress-free could be really good, and very sane planning.  But whether with Christmas Pageant production, or whenever we get them to experience it, children and adults get the power of committed, shared work.  Sharing in committed work, working together, and taking specific responsibility in work are crucial to Christian formation.

Whether it’s in learning new music or producing a pageant, I hope all of us as Christian formation leaders will be looking for shared work that is intentionally labor-intensive, and I hope we’ll choose sometimes to risk conflict and all the dilemmas that come from asking people (adults and children) to take responsibility and work together.

To read more about the rehearsals and commitments for our pageant, see part II.


Donald Schell has founded and developed the urban congregation of St. Gregory’s from an organizing dozen members to a parish with national recognition for its innovative approaches to liturgy and mission and its teaching contribution to the wider church. In 2007, Donald joined All Saints Company full time in order to consult, publish, and lead workshops on the discoveries made at St. Gregory’s. Donald has written My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago and has contributed chapters to Searching for Sacred Space, to What Would Jesus Sing? and to Music By Heart: Paperless Songs for Evening Worship. This article began as a conversation on the Forma list-serve.

Photo credit: Trinity Church Christmas (adapted) via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)


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