Churches find ways to carry on Christmas traditions during the pandemic


NEW ORLEANS (NewsNation Now) — It’s 2020 and another special occasion meant to be celebrated with family and friends is mired in loss and fear, as the virus continues to surge in areas across the country.

Still, people are finding ways to worship this Christmas despite restrictions and warnings not to gather in person.

For more than 100 years, Midnight Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans has been filled with hundreds of people worshipping together on Christmas Eve. This year, it’ll require a reservation.

“We will be socially distanced and masked up,” said Sarah McDonald, director of communication for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “We will still have a cantor who will be singing the music even though we can’t all sing together with the beautiful cathedral choir.”

Attendance will be limited to fewer than 500 people.

“Even though it’s different and our family celebrations will look different, and even though our parish and church celebrations may look a little bit different, we always need to remember the true reason of the season and carrying Christ with us now and into the new year,” she said.

Bishop Mark Seitz, of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, Texas, announced that churches there will be open in time for Christmas. Under Phase Three of the local protocol, they may operate at 25% capacity and must follow all social distancing and disinfection norms.

“We know that a great deal of caution is necessary, but at the same time, we feel we’ve had time to learn safe practices and to begin implementing them in our churches,” Seitz said.

He said the city curfew will not apply to those attending late mass services, and encourages at-risk worshippers to stay safe at home. The diocese will be broadcasting Masses in English and Spanish on Christmas Eve.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, services will also be streamed online, and in-person attendees will be split between two buildings.

St. Andrews Church Director Steve Wood was unsure if Christmas Mass would happen this year.

“There is just a measure of joy that being able to gather regardless of our size, is a blessing to us,” Wood said.

In Las Vegas, churches will still hold annual Christmas Eve services or Mass, following a federal court ruling on church attendance in Nevada. The ruling said that churches could hold 25% of their fire code occupancy limit, as long as they comply with social distancing and temperature checks. Many of the churches there also require reservations.

“I think there is a penned up longing for people to come back to their houses of worship, to be together as a community, certainly to celebrate the birth of the Lord, and I find that our people are just wonderful, and they’ve been very resilient, really cooperative,” said Bishop George Leo Thomas.

In Britain, authorities had planned to relax restrictions, but the emergence of a new, more contagious strain of the virus shut countries down instead. No indoor mixing of households is allowed in London or southeast England, and dozens of countries have limited flights from Britain, as new daily infections are running at record highs.

In South Africa, beaches will be closed for the holidays and a nighttime curfew is in place. Alcohol can only be sold on the weekends.

Some countries are banning flights from the country, where infections and deaths have doubled over the past two weeks.

Lebanon is taking a different approach, hoping to inject foreign currency into a tanking economy, and easing restrictions such as opening nightclubs but prohibiting dancing.

Back in the U.S., at the Country Club Christian Church in Kansas City, the pews have been empty for most of the year. And they’ll remain that way Christmas Eve.

“One of the joys in being together in worship is to sing, and we didn’t feel like it would be safe to have people shoulder-to-shoulder singing in this almost 100-year-old building,” said Sr. Minister Carla Aday.

But they’ll still be worshipping together in song Christmas Eve, with hundreds of candles delivered to parishioners’ doors.

Aday said that as we enter into what some are predicting could seem like the longest winter after months of loss and fear, reach people on Christmas is as important as ever.

Wherever they may be lighting that candle, be it at church, home or an outdoor service, she hopes people will see the symbolism of connecting with others during the pandemic.

“This is a time for us to remember that the darkness does not overcome the light, and that there is hope,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health experts are warning that the safest way to spend Christmas this year is at home with your immediate family.

When it comes to religious services, the CDC urges marks, hygiene, social distancing and minimizing the sharing of worship materials.

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