Many US churches cancel in-person Christmas services

NEW YORK (AP) – Amid the wave of coronavirus cases in the United States, many churches have canceled in-person Christmas services, disappointing pastors and worshipers who see them as an annual highlight.

Other churches have planned outdoor services or offered a hybrid of online and in-person worship, often with strict restrictions on who is in attendance. These included the requirement to wear masks and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Among the major churches that canceled some or all of their in-person Christmas services included the Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital; St. John the Divine, the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; and the historic Old South Church in Boston.

Old South Senior Minister Reverend Nancy Taylor said the church – affiliated with The United Church of Christ – still hoped to hold in-person services on Christmas Day to Saturday, but was moving its popular New Year’s service Christmas online only.

“The Christmas Eve congregation tends to be larger with a lot of visitors, some of whom have come from the holidays, and many of whom are not used to the Boston mask mandate,” she explained in her announcement.

“While we cherish these guests under normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances. We put the health and safety of our volunteers and staff first,” she said. “We know. how disappointing it is. “

Leaders at the Washington National Cathedral, which traditionally welcomes more than 15,000 people to its Christmas services, have announced that all of its services through January 9 will only be offered remotely, with no worshipers or visitors allowed into the cathedral. .

“Sadly, as the omicron variant takes hold across the world, our city appears to be the nation’s leader in infections,” said Cathedral Dean The Right Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith. “Given the surge in infections, I simply cannot justify assembling massive crowds as the public health situation worsens around us.”

Another major church in Washington – National City Christian Church – has also canceled its Christmas Eve service and will switch to online worship exclusively at least until January 16.

Leaders in National City – the national church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – described their decision as “one that we desperately don’t want to make, but think we have to.” They noted that Washington Mayor Murial Bowser had declared a state of emergency in the District of Columbia.

In New York City, which is seeing a record number of positive tests for COVID-19, executives at St. John Divine have said they are moving all Christmas services online only, using its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“The time has come once again to prioritize the needs and concerns of our community at large,” the cathedral said on its website.

Another historic New York City church – Middle Collegiate – was destroyed by fire in December 2020. After overseeing painstaking reconstruction efforts, the Reverend Jacqui Lewis – the senior minister – was eagerly awaiting a New Year’s Eve service from Christmas in person, but it has now been canceled.

The decision “is one of the most difficult choices I have had to make as a pastor,” Lewis told The Associated Press by email. “This was going to be the beautiful Christmas service that we had been waiting for a long time. But I love my people too much to risk their lives.

“My fabulous team has pivoted on a dime, and we’ll be having a wonderful celebration online,” she added. “We will have breathtaking music and fiery sermons. But above all, we will be safe. And we will be together.

Other churches that have canceled in-person Christmas services include the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Springfield, Illinois, and the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, which is home to a large, predominantly African-American congregation.

Bishop Timothy Clarke, senior pastor of God’s First Church, announced his decision live on the church’s website Thursday evening.

“Blame me,” he told members of the congregation who might be disappointed. “I am the one who will stand before God and give an account. “

Just north of New York City, Westchester County’s Bedford Presbyterian Church was one of many churches nationwide that were planning to conduct in-person Christmas services despite the spread of the omicron variant.

Reverend Carol Howard Merritt – the senior pastor – said the decision was made by a group including parents, a school administrator and a doctor.

“It has become clear that although the variant is highly contagious, infections appear to lead to milder cases, especially for those who are vaccinated and boosted,” Merritt said by email. “In response, we decided to organize in-person services while making sure we needed masks, shifted seats, limited attendance and shortened services.”

At All Saints Episcopal Church in New York City’s Brooklyn, Rev. Steven Paulikas made a similar decision – to move forward with in-person services while requiring masks for all who attend. The Christmas Eve service featured music from the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, conducted by congregation member Arturo O’Farrill.

“Arturo and I decided this week to move forward with the orchestra, which are all vaccinated and tested regularly,” said Paulikas. “As Arturo said, we have to do what the congregation needs most – and what we need most right now is beauty and hope.”


The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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