To Smell Again

As I write this, the pandemic appears to be winding down in our corner of the globe—please, dear Lord, make it so!—and churches are preparing to open again for in-person worship. I can’t wait to be able to choose what to look at during worship rather than leaving that to the people, good and essential as they have been, who are behind the cameras and live editing stations streaming our worship services.

I also miss the smell.

How we feel about anything hitting our senses is governed by our association with it. My associations with church and worship are almost entirely good. So I do miss the smell of the coffee as I walk into the narthex. I miss the mixed smells of households captured by the coats and wraps on the coat rack. I even like the particular smell of church nurseries and classrooms that hold the sweet sweat smell of so many active little bodies.

Aromas of Advent

I imagine this idea as a children’s message and/or a multigenerational display during Advent and Christmas. It’s pretty simple. Cover boxes with seasonal gift wrap and include slots in the tops big enough to get a whiff of what’s inside but small enough that you can’t see inside. Each week, introduce one box with one smell. Ask what it might be and why we would be presenting it today. Once introduced, make the growing number of boxes available as an ongoing activity.

Depending on your service plans, you’ll want to select and order the following ideas (and your own) to fit. You’ll want to secure the items in the boxes to keep the focus on smelling what’s inside.

  • Candles—to introduce Advent candles
  • Burned matches—to introduce the lighting of Advent candles
  • Sweaty shirt—representing either the long, hard trip pregnant Mary and Joseph had to take or Joseph’s nervousness when he couldn’t find a place for his wife and soon-to-be-born son
  • Baby oil or baby powder—representing a baby
  • Straw—representing a stable (if you’re brave, add manure!)
  • Perfume—representing gifts of the Magi
  • Horse blanket—representing a donkey or sheep
  • Pine branches—to connect with the Christmas tree in the home

. . .

Come and see—and smell!

Dean Heetderks is a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Cutlerville, Michigan, and art director of Reformed Worship. Show and tell him about your experiences at

Reformed Worship 141 © September 2021, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.