A Birthday Party for Jesus


Margie Briggs, pastor of two small churches in Missouri, describes how the annual tradition of hosting a “birthday party for Jesus” has attracted children and families from their community into the church, helping to bring new vitality to an aging congregation.

A few years ago, our small rural church in Calhoun, Missouri, wanted to do something at Christmas time for the community’s children. There are only two churches within the city limits, and many children in the town and surrounding area attend neither. When I suggested a Birthday Party for Jesus, folks were a little unsure, but in true discipleship fashion agreed to go for it.

We started small. The children would come with parents and hear the real story of why there is a Christmas in the first place. I would read the story of the first Christmas from many different versions, having the children around me as I read. We would escort the children downstairs to our Fellowship Hall to pick out gifts contributed by parishioners for their parents and siblings. We would finish off with a hot dog lunch, birthday cake, and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus.

The joy of the day is hearing older and young voices together, along with the babbles of babies, singing Happy Birthday dear Jesus, Happy Birthday to you.

As the years passed, more and more came to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with us. Early on, a grandmother who was waiting for her grandchildren mentioned it would be nice if there were something like this for grandparents on fixed incomes so they could get their grandkids a small gift for under the tree. Why didn’t we think of that? So for several years now, the entire family can shop. Have some tried to be a little greedy in this new process? Oh yes, a few. But we developed some check points and continue to improve each year.

We receive some modestly priced gifts and some that are more costly. We handle this by having one table of more expensive gifts, and each shopper can take one gift from the special table and get the rest from the other tables that are loaded with less expensive items. With this system, every shopper chooses at least one very special gift for someone on his or her list.

Last Christmas, we had over 70 shoppers and wrapped over 600 gifts ready to slip under their trees. Our congregants and their friends and neighbors are buying gifts all through the year to make sure we are well stocked. And we rely on the help of many soup makers, cookie bakers, gift wrappers, and personal shoppers who assist the little ones to find age appropriate and correct size of gifts.

The joy of the day is hearing older and young voices together, along with the babbles of babies, singing Happy Birthday dear Jesus, Happy Birthday to you.

This article comes from a forthcoming book by Margie Briggs to be published by Cass Community Publishing House.

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About Author

Margie Briggs is a certified lay minister who serves as pastor of Calhoun and Drake’s Chapel United Methodist churches in Missouri. She wrote a book, Can You Just Get Them Through Until Christmas?, about more than 10 years as a lay minister to the two small rural churches. The book is available at Amazon.

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