Holiday worshippers will be going to services at area churches on Christmas Eve for a variety of reasons, according to several clergy.

The Rev. Gary Bonebrake said two services are scheduled today at Oneonta's Main Street Baptist Church "" at 6 and 8 p.m.

In previous years, the services have been held elsewhere, but this year they will be at the church, he said. About 700 people have attended recent Christmas services, so two times for worship have been scheduled in the church that seats about 400, he said.

The attendance is elevated for several reasons in the church that has about 335 members, he said. For those who believe in the Gospel, "it is a sacred celebration," marking the birth of Jesus, he said. For many, "it is also a time when families get together," he said. "We are glad to welcome everyone."

A living Nativity will proceed each service.

At Saint James Episcopal Church in Oneonta, the Rev. Ken Hunter said the Christmas Eve attendance is hard to predict, but it is the one of the most popular services for the 200-member congregation.

More usually attend because members usually bring guests, he said.

An informal service with carols is at 5 p.m., and a service of sacred choral music is set for 10:30 p.m. A service of Holy Communion will be offered Friday at 10 a.m.

The message of God's love through the birth of Jesus is of particular importance in understanding the turnout, he said. "It is a very joyful occasion," he said.

But "the good will and warm feelings" spill over to the people who may not think of themselves as religious, he said. They may be drawn to "the warmth of the occasion," he said.

"Christmas has always been important to people, but it may be more so now because families are strained" by such factors as changes in society and even geography, he said.

The celebration provides something that people are "hungry for" in a society that provides for freedom and individuality but also causes isolation, he said.

About 225 could be in attendance when the First Presbyterian Church of Delhi holds its service at 7:30 p.m., the Rev. Allen Presby said.

It is an event "of tradition and heritage that holds families together through a shared history." There are about 250 congregants, he said.

The culture as a whole is much less oriented to religion than it was three to four decades ago, but any drop-off in attendance could be attributed to demographics, he said.

"Those in attendance find the service meaningful," he said.

There are normally about 50 in attendance for a service at First Baptist Church of Cooperstown, the Rev. Douglas Deer said. But, there could be more than 100 at the Christmas Eve service scheduled for 7 p.m. he said.

A lot of congregants bring family members visiting for the holiday, he said. It has become a tradition for a lot of those attendance.

Christmas will always be important because it's "the expression of God's love," he said.

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