Churches adapt for 2020 Christmas services


CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — From worshiping on Zoom, to caroling on church steps and holding hybrid services, local congregations say they’re doing everything they can to make 2020 feel like Christmas.

“We wanna make it as much like being in church as possible, with the acknowledgement that it is not the same,” says Reverend Jeffrey Packard of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

At Saint Andrew’s, Father Packard says they typically host about 450 people for Christmas. Now, those services will be prerecorded for the holiday.

“We just keep throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks,” says Father Packard. “And not everything we’ve tried has been popular or well received, but we just keep trying.”

A new holiday addition to their virtual services: they will be distributing communion for the congregation to pick up on Christmas Eve. It’s something he says many people haven’t had since March.

“That has been a real boost for people who have been feeling really isolated,” says Father Packard.

They’ll also be hosting in-person caroling on the church steps, with the option to watch online.

As Hanukkah has passed, Rabbi David Ostrich of Congregation Brit Shalom says they were able to reach their normal amount of people, if not more, through Zoom. However, he says some recognize the worship is not the same.

“Other people have been really really accepting of it, and realize it’s not the best, it’s not as good as in-person, but it works,” says Rabbi Ostrich.

He adds, this is not the first time religions have had to work through unprecedented times and he’s grateful that today’s technology can connect us.

Whether celebrating virtually or socially distanced, Father Packard says, the reason for the holiday will not be taken away.

“It’s Christmas time, and no pandemic and no economic problems is going to stop that,” says Father Packard.

Leaders at the Catholic church, Our Lady of Victory, say they’re adapting for their large congregation.

“Our church is the largest church in the Altoona-Johnston diocese. We have roughly 26 hundred families that go to Our Lady of Victory…. what we have done is we’ve added masses,” says Father Neil Dadey of Our Lady of Victory.

Father Dadey says they are offering five services on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas which will allow people to spread out in the pews.

These services can hold up to 250 people, who will all be required to wear masks.

Father Dadey says, no one will be turned away. They will have a second service in the building’s gym if overflow is needed.

He says services will also be available virtually for those who feel more comfortable worshiping at home.

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