The COVID pandemic hit the country hard. Businesses have shut down, some forced to close their doors for good, and people have lost their jobs or have had drastic cuts to their hours. Now that Christmas is here, churches across the nation are trying to find a way for their congregations to celebrate and worship.
This year has been a battle for the right to worship and has seen churches sue the governors who made them stay closed. Now, with severe restrictions in place, holy leaders have had to be very creative so that their flock can be a part of the spirit of the season. A year ago, we would have never thought that we would have to be put on a waitlist to be able to attend services, but some churches have had to go to that extreme with limited seating and social distancing rules. Others are holding a multitude of services so that more people can attend.
The Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. is the country’s largest Catholic church. There were 13,650 in attendance last year. This year, however, the 3,000-seat building will only be allowed to hold 1,750 people total, spread out over seven Masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By Sunday, Dec. 20, all Eve Masses were full and only a few slots were available for Christmas Day. Both days will also have live-streamed services.
Some churches cannot even be open due to their state’s mandates. The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in D.C., a predominately black assembly, has been closed since March with no reopening date in sight. Christmas this year will be live-streamed, and Rev. William Lamar IV said the focus is charity and providing food and gifts for families in need.
In Pennsylvania, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church will worship virtually, but they will also be offering communion. Church members can pick up what they need to participate on Christmas Eve. They will also host in-person caroling on the church steps, and those who cannot attend can watch the event online.
Music is a challenge during the pandemic, especially after some governors told their constituents not to sing during Thanksgiving. This holiday, more than any other, is a time for choirs and orchestras, especially in church. So how are churches managing the celebration with such restrictions?
St. James Catholic Church in Louisville, KY has the annual tradition of playing Christmas music on a 135-year-old pipe organ accompanied by 36 chorists, a trumpet, violin, baritone horn, cymbals, and timpani. The event is so popular that people arrive early to the church just to make sure they can get a seat. This year, the congregation will instead see the “quarantine quartets” perform. The groups of four, along with a violinist and percussionist, will be masked and practicing social distancing from the choir loft.
St. John United Methodist Church in Augusta, GA will not be performing in front of its congregation. Instead, they recorded 85 past and present choir members who sang “What Sweeter Music” by John Rutter with a cellist and three violinists who played inside their homes. The creation was put onto a video that will be shown during a prerecorded Christmas Eve service.
As Mr. Hines, St. James Catholic Church’s music director said, “It’s like the Whos are all gathered around, and the Grinch is looking down and he can’t figure out why they’re still singing.”
Read more from Kelli Ballard.