Manatee County is blessed with literally hundreds of men and women who lead flocks of many different faiths.
But the Rev. Eugene “Gene” Maddox, 63, who is pastor of both Manatee United Methodist Church and Oneco United Methodist Church, seems different.
Maybe it’s the way he talks. He’s so plain. He’s so self-effacing.
For instance, last Tuesday he said: “Our services seek to be guest-friendly. We don’t care how you dress. We don’t even care how you smell. Jesus took me when I was a mess, and we love messes to come in. Jesus loves messes. In some cases, I am still a mess. So, everyone is invited. Jesus wants everyone. We want everyone.”
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When a person is hurting, the temptation is to close their heart off. I will encourage them to open their hearts to a God who loves them and who is with them in their pain.
The Rev. Eugene Maddox of Manatee United Methodist Church speaking of the Blue Christmas Service
With the exaltation of Christmas approaching, the truth is that there are people out there who are a mess, Maddox said.
Maybe they have lost a spouse this year. Maybe they have lost a child. Maybe they have lost their home. Maybe they have lost their job.
Whatever is making them blue, they are dreading everyone else’s Christmas spirit, Maddox added.
The pastor says he can help.
There won’t be chit chat and cookies after like we normally have. The sanctuary will be left open for prayer. People can come and talk to Pastor Maddox.
Kathy Cooke, assistant to the pastor at Manatee United Methodist Church
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 21, at Manatee United Methodist Church, 315 15th St. E., Bradenton, Maddox will lead the church’s unique, open to the public annual Blue Christmas Service.
Blue Christmas is a 45-minute service in the church’s lovely sanctuary, which is filled with stained glass. There won’t be preaching. It will be a time for meditation. Maddox will talk about Christmas but not in the traditional way. He will tell the crowd, which usually is small, that the original Christmas was also a mess of uncertainty, just like they are experiencing this year.
“That first Christmas didn’t happen in a mall,” Maddox said he will tell them. “It was a very difficult time, just like you are going through now. Mary and Joseph had to make that long trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem and had no reservation at the inn. In fact, when they got there, there was no room at all for them. That was not easy to hear. Just imagine. That Christmas was not well organized, just like your life now. That Christmas was not well planned, like what you are going through now. But that Christmas was about God. And God is also interested in what you are going through right now.”
After that story, the crowd will sing a Christian hymn that, in Maddox’s view, perfectly explains to those who are in pain that God wants to love away their pain.
The hymn is “In This Very Room.”
The hymn goes: “In this very room there’s quite enough love for one like me. And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for one like me. And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom.”
“God is in the room,” replied Kathy Cooke, the assistant to the pastor for the last 12 years at Manatee United Methodist Church when asked what is in the room. “It’s a hymn that talks about love.”
“When a person is hurting, the temptation is to close their heart off,” Maddox said. “I will encourage them to open their hearts to a God who loves them and who is with them in their pain.”
Soon after the hymn is sung by everyone, the service will end.
“There won’t be chit-chat and cookies after like we normally have,” Cooke said. “ The sanctuary will be left open for prayer. People can come and talk to Pastor Maddox.”
Although it may be odd to experience a church for the first time during its Blue Christmas service, Cooke thinks it’s the perfect time to experience this church, which, by the way, is 168 years old, making it not only Manatee’s oldest church but the oldest church south of Tampa.
“This is where Pastor Maddox really shines,” Cooke said of Blue Christmas.