In Atlanta, Georgia over the past five decades, the live telecast of the 11:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service from the Cathedral of St. Philip has been a much-loved holiday tradition. Individuals tune in and families gather to watch the pageantry, sing along with the carols and familiar Christmas anthems, and be inspired by the homily by the bishop or the dean. Even folks of other faiths or no religion at all have reported that they enjoy watching the broadcast, which is viewed by hundreds of thousands of people over the local station that donates the time.
For the past six years, it's been part of my work at the Alliance for Christian Media to help with the production. My regular job, of course, is to produce our weekly national radio program, "Day1," but each year I assist our president, the Rev. Canon Louis Schueddig, in bringing together the extensive equipment and skilled crew (most of whom loyally return year after year) required to mount a live production of this magnitude. It's hard work, and cold and often raining late on Christmas Eve, but we have viewed it as our calling to sacrifice some comfort and time in order to minister to others in this way, as a sacramental offering to the faithful and a proclamation of hope to those who are seeking it.
So every Christmas Eve for the past six years, I've arrived at the Cathedral around 6 p.m., not exactly to worship--though there is much prayer involved--but to join the director, the technical director, the audio engineer, and several other expert crew members (most of whom usually do live sports productions) in a large TV production truck parked outside.
We do a "rehearsal" during the 8:30 p.m. service, which is videotaped in case any problems arise later, so it needs to be as good as possible. My specific tasks have been to indicate when certain voice-over tracks are to be played, and when names and other information should be splashed on the screen.
Then we wait around nervously until 11:30 and the start signal from the TV station-an electric moment. After that it's sixty minutes of non-stop, adrenalin-producing action in that truck as the director cues the five camera operators in the Cathedral to create a beautiful and meaningful experience for the viewers. (Though I still haven't recuperated from my first year, when the cathedral organ wouldn't come on for the 11:30 service...until the very last second!)
By the time the broadcast concludes, usually just as the Great Thanksgiving is being sung for the Eucharist, we are all exhausted by the exhilarating stress of the live production, occasionally regretting a botched cue or a technical mix-up, but usually exulting over another wonderful broadcast that many thousands of people will have enjoyed.
But before I head for my car and return home to a sleepless night fueled by the evening's caffeine and adrenalin, I quietly enter the sanctuary to join with the folks who've been experiencing the service in person, and with them approach the altar rail to receive the bread and the wine. By this time it is very early on Christmas morning. It's one of the most meaningful Eucharistic experiences I have every year.
This year, however, our involvement in the live production is decreasing significantly as others take on the responsibility. Which means if I'm not in church myself somewhere, I'll likely be home, tuning in to watch the service like everyone else. I won't miss the angst-filled thrill of the live production, but I will miss the experience afterward of sharing the body and the blood of the Savior whose birth we celebrate, an experience that offers immense hope and peace in the wake of such glorious chaos. Perhaps that's an experience I will try to remember every time I take the Eucharist in the gloriously chaotic year ahead.
[Adapted from an article originally posted on ExploreFaith.org]