Christmas is typically a festive time of year. It’s a time for rejoicing and connecting with others. It’s a time of worship and fellowship for Christians around the world.
And, yes, Christmastime typically has its share of holiday stress. But this year, the stress is different – just like almost everything else in 2020.
For many Christians, not attending church services to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is unimaginable. With COVID-19 back on the rise, Dothan churches are trying to host services that bring people together to worship safely. But, it’s a delicate balance between providing spiritual care and keeping people healthy.
“I think the difficulty right now is we’re seeing a spike in cases and people are starting to know a lot of people who have COVID,” said Chris Jones, the lead minister at Westgate Church of Christ in Dothan. “We’ve been affected personally as a church – we’ve lost some people. We’ve had people really sick who pulled through but some that did not. It’s impacted us personally as a congregation.”
But there’s hope, Jones said, with the vaccine, and this time of year brings a sense of renewal.
Westgate Church of Christ held an outdoor candlelight service Wednesday evening during the time the church would have normally held mid-week services. In the early days of the pandemic, the church’s elders created a medical advisory committee made up of doctors and nurses who attend the church. The committee advises church leaders on how to safely proceed with services and events, helping church leaders find a good balance.
A constant tension has run through 2020, but Jones said he thinks the congregation has navigated the year as best it could.
“We have, I believe, really tried to give people the best of the worship, being together, but also being distanced and masked,” Jones said. “It’s not a perfect scenario but we feel like we’ve done the best we can to keep our members safe.”
First United Methodist Church in Dothan is holding curbside Communion on Christmas Eve and an outdoor worship service in a green space behind the church with family households socially distanced from each other, said Katie Martin, the church’s communications director. The church is also offering a virtual Christmas Eve candlelight worship service that will stream on the church’s website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Families were provided interactive kits that included packaged communion elements, bells and candles so they could participate in the virtual service from home.
“We’re hoping while that’s virtual, people still feel a connection because we’re all at home doing our same things.” Martin said.
At St. Columba Catholic Church in Dothan, Mass will be held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The Rev. James Dane, St. Columba’s pastor, said there are members who still are not able to attend Mass due to the risk of exposure. The church has continued to offer live-streamed services for those who cannot attend.
“As Catholics, we’re very centered on receiving the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist and Holy Communion,” Dane said. “I think in a lot of ways, that’s what people miss… They miss being with the rest of the people but also miss receiving the Holy Communion.”
Rhema Rock Church stuck with online services as it has since the pandemic reached the Wiregrass.
Pastor Curtis Harvey Jr. said there are members who attend in-person Sunday services, but many members of the Rhema Rock congregation have followed along online. Harvey said the more time passes, the more COVID-19 hits closer to home for church members, especially when it comes to the deaths of friends, neighbors and relatives.
“They’re still being safe; I’m not going to say they’re afraid, just being safe,” Harvey said. “COVID is on an increase right now.”
Despite the pandemic, Harvey said members have tried to remain positive and supportive of one another.
“Everyone seems to be joyful,” Harvey said. “Everyone seems to be encouraging each other, persevering, and uplifting.”