HINTON, Iowa | This Sunday will be busier than normal for The Rev. Kolleen Queener, who will lead four services at two churches in two different Northwest Iowa cities.
Many churches in larger cities like Sioux City hold more than one Sunday service to accommodate its worshipers, but smaller Siouxland churches, particularly in rural areas, typically offer a single service. That changes in years, like 2017, when Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday.
"I had double services to plan this week. My kids are coming home. I am trying to clean my house, wrap my presents, so yeah, it is a challenge," Queener said.
Like many pastors for smaller churches, Queener serves two congregations -- Hinton United Methodist Church in Hinton and Merrill-Melbourne United Methodist Church, which is located in rural Plymouth County between Hinton and Merrill.
Queener will conduct regular Sunday morning services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., then shift gears for Christmas Eve services at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
At Merrill-Melbourne, she noted there often are less than 20 people attending Sunday morning services. After more than seven years as the pastor there, she's noticed Christmas Eve can draw nearly four times that number. Queener said many people travel back to their hometowns and attend church, since that is important to them.
"There is a very strong tradition of Christmas Eve at both churches," she said.
Both candlelight evening services will have worshipers sharing flames across pew to pew. Queener said she won't give a sermon on Christmas Eve. The service will be heavy on scripture reading and holiday songs. She settled on a lineup of eight songs that included "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night" and "Away in the Manger."
She said people relish comforting reminders about the birth of Jesus Christ.
"I just like to let the story stand on its own...People want to have what they expect. It is not a time for experimenting," Queener said.
Queener said the only other busier time of the church year comes at Easter.
A few miles farther east in rural Plymouth County, Steven Stoll serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, 29014 Lake Ave. Stoll said the annual Christmas children's program will be held during the regular 9:30 a.m. service Sunday morning. Many of the same people will attend a 7 p.m. candlelight service.
He said the Christmas Eve services draw about 130 people, or roughly double a normal Sunday morning.
Stoll said people have expectations for a memorable service, but it doesn't result in a surge of adrenaline for him to specially deliver that evening. He won't polish his sermon longer than normal, saying his usual preparation of 10 to 15 hours will fit well for his Christmas Eve message.
"The (main) story is the fulfillment of the promise by the birth of the child, of the Old Testament prophecy," he said.
In Elk Point, South Dakota, Elk Point Baptist Church Pastor Jesse Hailey said there is no trouble getting enough people to serve in church roles even in a day with two services. Hailey said the pastoral duties over two services isn't anything he remotely dreads.
"It is work that isn't a chore. It is my life, it is what I love to do," he said.
Hailey said the Christmas Eve service will be heavy on reading the nativity story from the Second Chapter of Luke, plus the candle lighting that people enjoy.
"I am a nostalgic guy. It just has a cool effect to it," Hailey said.
Stoll said the Christmas period is taxing. He has weekly Wednesday Advent services along with the Sunday services, and admitted he'll be tired by the end of the long December month on Sunday night.
"You just have to manage your time a little better," he said.