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Joanna Connects: The Ragged Road to Christmas Eve

What is St. Barnabas doing on Christmas Eve?

That’s a complicated question! Generally, the planning for Christmas Eve takes on a rather traditional look at “what’s been done before” and then doing the same thing. People love the comfort of traditional Christmas carols, beloved rituals, and a gathered assembly of joyful congregants.

But this is 2020. The latest headline I read was, “2020 Strikes Again: Your Tires Are Killing the Salmon.” What else can happen?

At St. Barnabas, the staff has been thinking about and planning for Christmas ever since September. I kid you not! When I first got here, Maaike asked me, “What are we doing for Christmas services?” My response was, “Uh, what am I doing for this Sunday?”

Like a shockwave, the pandemic has upended every plan that we have had. But in September, there was a possibility that Christmas Eve could be almost normal, that COVID-19 would be mostly in the past. But we couldn’t be certain, and had to plan for every possibility and explore every option for making Christmas at St. Barnabas the best that we could offer.

We, the entire staff, looked down the long road of Coronavirus-ville and we have gone up and down, in and out, backwards and forwards, in planning the Christmas Eve services. At first, we planned the services as usual. Then we planned a glorious pre-recorded service. Then we made plans for live, in-person worship services with reservations. I offered to have twelve worship services on December 24th, between 12 noon and 11 p.m., with reservations and a maximum of twenty persons. Then we whittled that down to six services, all different, all live.

We considered other possibilities, too. There were plans for linking people to another church like the National Cathedral that could offer a bigger, fancier service than we could. There were plans for doing all of the options at the same time.

Lots of changes! And this is the Episcopal Church, in the Anglican Communion where it took 400 years to change from “thee” to “you.” (We’re still working on that one.)

Last week, Bishops Mark Hollingsworth and Ken Price, Bishops of Ohio and Southern Ohio, respectively, have together determined that “all congregations in Ohio suspend all in-person worship by Sunday, December 13 if they have not done so already, and return to worshiping by online services only. This will continue until further notice, certainly through the end of the month and likely well into the new year.” He writes, “Even though, as a religious community, we may be afforded certain exemptions by our government, as Christians, we are never exempt from caring for our neighbors and putting other’s safety before our own needs and desires.”

So, after all of our explorations of different worship alternatives, Coronavirus Road has narrowed our options down to one: digital. That is no surprise. This is a virus of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” proportions—epic, hidden, stealthy, deadly, menacing, creepy, and Out to Get You. The virus is just a lot smaller than those pea pods in the movie.

But I feel very good about our final decision. We will offer two Christmas Eve services as usual, at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. They will be on Zoom, which gives us both the quality of pre-recorded music and the joy of seeing one another’s faces and hearing their voices. As with our recent Zoom worship services in November, the Christmas Eve services will be recorded so that, if you cannot attend via Zoom on time, you will be able to tune in to the services at a later time.

Head-spinning changes happening in the church, as in the world. But this is a staff that can not only turn on a dime, they can do this while turning cartwheels at the same time. They do this because they so love the church, the congregation, and their Lord Jesus, whose incarnation we will soon celebrate. Bishop Price said it best in his message:

“Taking these steps in this unprecedented emergency is, indeed, an act of faith and a witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. It is vital that we continue to model Christian charity as we strive to meet the practical responsibilities demanded of us in this time of challenge. By so doing, I believe we can provide hope and protection to those who are suffering from illness, fear and loss. In spite of all of this, we will hear again the angels sing and proclaim joy to the world with unfailing confidence in the incarnate love of God, who is Christ the Lord.”

May God bless you all as you move through this Advent season awaiting the coming of Christ.


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