This Christmas season, you’ll find a warm and welcoming home at Painesville’s First Church of Christ

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One local church— First Church of Christ, in Painesville—is not giving up on the true meaning of Christmas. Unlike the inns of Bethlehem, this congregation is flinging open their doors this holiday season and inviting the entire community inside to be accepted and loved for who they are.

By Mitch Allen

I'm not sure when it happened, but Thanksgiving seems to have gone a little off track.

As a kid, I remember the holiday being all about food, family and thankfulness, but, if this year is any indication,Thanksgiving has morphed into a week-long celebration of Black Friday.

Similarly, Christmas has been suffering from over-commercialization for quite a while, at least since 1965 when Lucy Van Pelt told Charlie Brown:

“We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

In one form or another, regardless of your religion, “the holidays”—the five weeks from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day—likely represent a time for introspection, for taking stock of our lives, for being grateful for what we have, for giving to others, for expressing our love for family and friends, for seeking atonement for the times when we did not behave at our best, and for making plans to improve ourselves in the coming year.

And for Christians specifically, Christmas is a reminder that the full, warm, graceful heart that comes from all of the above is possible through the single act of accepting Jesus Christ, the Savior of humankind who was born so humbly in a stable in Bethlehem under a star.

One local church First Church of Christ, in Painesville—is not giving up on the true meaning of Christmas. Unlike the inns of Bethlehem, this congregation is flinging open their doors this holiday season and inviting the entire community inside to be accepted and loved for who they are.

“I get it,” says Mike Marin, the new pastor at First Church of Christ.

“People are busy living their lives and sometimes church takes a back seat. But that’s not your fault. If we did a better job being welcoming and relevant in today’s world, more people would see church as a joy, not as a chore.”

And that’s exactly what’s happening at First Church of Christ—refreshing relevance and authenticity. In fact, one of the first things Pastor Mike asked the congregation to do when he arrived was the humble act of simply remodeling the bathrooms.

“For me, preaching requires a practical application, taking God’s word and applying to today’s culture,” he says.

“December gives us a special opportunity to do that because more people are excited about church during Christmas time. In short, we want to be your home this Christmas.”

“Walk Through Bethlehem”
If you’d like to get a feel for First Church of Christ, plan on visiting “Walk Through Bethlehem” on Saturday, December 8, from 5-7 p.m.

The 15- to 20-minute walk begins at the front door where a guide will greet you and treat you as if you are a traveler arriving in Bethlehem to take part in the census and pay your taxes to Rome—and you are struggling to find a place to spend the night.

You’ll visit an authentic Bethlehem home at the time of Jesus’s birth followed by the regal encampment of the Three Wise Men and their entourage and learn why they are searching for the Savior.

You’ll visit a Bethlehem market offering baskets, fabrics, vegetables, breads, and live animals, then you’ll meet utterly astonished shepherds who have just heard the angels singing and revealing to them where to find the Baby Jesus, which is where you will go, too—to the stable where you will see Jesus, Mary and Joseph and hear the story of Christmas.

You’ll meet the patient and faithful Anna and Simeon as you walk to the Bethlehem Inn for hot and cold beverages and cookies. “Bethlehem” translates as “House of Bread” so you will also enjoy a variety of specialty breads.

And it’s all free.

The experience is not a Broadway production. It’s sweet, humbling and organized completely by dedicated volunteers—an ideal reflection of the First Church of Christ congregation.

As Pastor Mike explains:

“We’re not an arena-style, mega-church with a professional stage, but we’re also way more than a sermon and an organ. During Sunday services, we may use multi-media and skits to help explain God’s word in the modern world, but we’re not having a rock concert.”

You’re Also Invited To...
First Church of Christ is opening its doors to the community every Sunday morning, but you’ll especially want to join them for the Christmas Cantata on Sunday, December 16, at 10:45 a.m., when the choir’s theme will be “Bethlehem Morning.”

And be sure to mark your calendar for First Church of Christ’s Christmas Eve Service, a traditional candlelight service featuring carols and hymns. It starts at 6:30 p.m.

After Christmas
After the holidays are over, you’ll discover that the warm, welcoming spirit at First Church of Christ wasn’t some Christmas illusion when everyone was on their best behavior. That gracefulness is apparent all year long.

The congregation is relatively small—about 120 worshipers on a Sunday morning—but they are growing—fast. In fact, their new slogan is “Reach and Grow,” that is, reach the community and grow the congregation.

“We’re a church for everybody and we are reemerging,” says Pastor Mike.

“We’re for people of all ages. We’re restructuring ourselves. We want to grow believers and followers and we’re looking for people who want to come and be a part of it and help us move ahead. Whether you know God or don’t know him, come join us.”

On December 23, the church will be wrapping up its quarterly theme of “Clean Living: Washing Away Life’s Stains.”

“‘Clean’ refers to God’s forgiveness and what it means in your life,” Pastor Mike says.

“My sermons are designed to help you feel better when you leave than when you came in. I’m not saying they won’t challenge you—sometimes they will—but I’m not here to yell at you and make you feel guilty.”

I laugh. I just can’t imagine him yelling at anyone.

“We all need caring loving people in our lives, especially during the holidays” he concludes.

“Supportive friendships help overcome loneliness. That’s what we offer. And you don’t have to believe what we believe. You’ll feel Christ’s love here no matter what. Just come as you are. Bring your family or come by yourself.”

There is plenty of room at the inn.

First Church of Christ is located at 422 Mentor Avenue, in Painesville. The phone number is 440-357-7422 or visit Cover Photo taken in the beautiful lobby at the Steele Mansion.