Sudbury Churches Plan Christmas Eve Services While Addressing Omicron Concerns
As churches finalize their plans for Christmas Eve services this year, pastors and other leaders are trying to balance the desires of their parishioners with the ability of the COVID-19 Omicron variant to be highly transmissible.
Ontario reinstated capacity limits at venues earlier this month, but those do not apply to religious services. However, the rules state that public health measures, such as physical distancing and wearing a mask, must be followed.
Pastor Thomas Arth of Trinity Lutheran Church in Greater Sudbury intended to hold an in-person service on Christmas Eve, but church leaders decided to cancel it.
“We had broadcast live the worship [services] for people on Facebook and we’ll continue now, ”he said.
The plan is to register a service and publish it on Christmas Eve.
“If the Wi-Fi signal isn’t strong enough or something, we’ll pre-register it and make sure everything is working,” Arth said. “We’ll upload it to our Facebook page, then people can watch it anytime on Christmas Eve.”
Arth said he was disappointed to have to cancel the in-person service for a second year.
“I don’t really think it was a difficult decision to make,” he said.
“We are worried about our members and the public. We would hate if someone got sick because they went to church.”
Before the pandemic, Arth said people would be sitting side by side for the Christmas Eve service.
“You get family visitation, so the kids who have grown up in the church but have moved, they come home, so you see people who have been gone for a while.”
A “strange” Christmas Eve at the church
At Calvin Presbyterian Church in New Sudbury, Pastor Dan Reeves prepares for an in-person service on Christmas Eve. He said they had to cancel it last year, but church leadership decided to go ahead this year.
“We’re trying to get people to RSVP ahead of time,” he said. “We would love to stay, in fact we have to stay socially distanced for this service.
“Usually on Christmas Eve you worry that you won’t have enough people.
“This Christmas Eve is very strange because now we have to worry if we have too much of it. But judging by the responses so far, I think we’ll be fine.”
Reeves said he was concerned he would have to turn people away if too many showed up.
“It’s the last thing you want to do on Christmas Eve. But people’s safety and well-being is first and foremost right now.”
There will also be an online option for the Christmas Eve service which will be offered on Facebook Live.
“The right spirit, the right attitude”
In Minnow Lake, Pastor Erin Todd of Grace United Church is no stranger to online services. When the pandemic began in early 2020, all church services, Bible studies, and other activities moved online.
Todd said before the pandemic, the church would be packed for a Christmas Eve service.
“On Christmas Eve last year, I had a full house on Zoom,” she said. “I call a full house more than a full screen, full of squares.”
This year, she is finalizing the Christmas Eve service for Zoom and that includes creating pre-recorded choir music for it.
“There are a lot of creative ways to do this,” she said. “It’s about having the right spirit, the right attitude and realizing that there are many ways to be in community and to be together.”
In 2019, Grace United Church burned down and a decision was made to rebuild it. Todd estimates construction will be completed early next year.
“We’re really on the home stretch with this construction project now,” she said.
“So it wasn’t a bad time not having a building, not being able to be there anyway.”