Dec 08, 2020

What are your church’s Advent and Christmas celebration plans, in light of—or in spite of—the relentless and deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Infections are increasing and taking a terrible toll everywhere. More government restrictions have been announced. And while churches can have gatherings legally, everyone is strongly advised to stay home, or to at least keep a safe distance from others, in addition to other precautions. 

Some churches that have reopened for worship are considering closing again. And some are finding creative ways to celebrate this sacred season safely either onsite or online. 

Berwyn UMC will pre-record its sparsely attended annual Lessons and Carols Advent service and its Christmas Eve service, complete with instrumental music and featuring its reconstituted bell choir.  Tindley Temple UMC in Philadelphia won’t have its traditional Handel’s Messiah Festival, with the usual 200+ voice mass choir; but the church will show its pre-recorded “A Very Tindley Christmas” online on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

St. John’s UMC Ivyland will sponsor its Drive-through Living Nativity Dec. 13, featuring carefully arranged animals—sheep, goats, a donkey and a camel—and a modified Nativity cast from shepherds to Wise Men to a choir of angels. “This is a Christmas gift to our community,” said outreach coordinator Ruth Portzline, “a safe way to celebrate the season. You don’t have to get out of your car.” The church also published a 45-page Advent Devotional, offered in hard copy and online, with writings by members. 

Rural Bushkill UMC plans to have an outdoor Vacation Bible School Dec. 20, with a Christmas tree attached to its flagpole for decorating, along with caroling and craft-making. Several North District pastors shared ideas and plans, but also safety concerns, during a recent video-chat on Zoom with their district superintendent, the Rev. Steve Morton.

Other churches reported in the “Christmas and COVID” idea-sharing Zoom session, Oct. 5, plans for safely distanced, masked “porch visits” to members’ homes, decorating sanctuaries with Advent greenery, caroling with instruments rather than voices, performing carillon concerts, and holding outdoor worship services that use FM transmitters to convey sound to vehicle radios in their parking lots. However, some plans may have changed in the two months since, as infections and safety concerns increase.

NEWSpirit Communications wants to know and report more creative church plans for celebrating the reason for this season, the advent and birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. That includes mission outreach to serve communities in Christ’s name. So, please, please send us your updated celebration plans and activities, including photos if available, so we can report more glad tidings of this challenging holy season. Send your news to publish by December 15 to or use our Submit News webpage.

Also, here is a new ecumenical resource: Guidance for Advent and Christmas Worship and Fellowship. This guide, published by The Consultation, offers safe protocol suggestions for creating Advent wreaths, lighting advent wreaths, hanging of the greens and Christmas Eve candle lighting. But it recommends only outdoor activities when there is a high positivity rate in COVID-19 infections.

Also, check out the Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship and Sacraments’s new resource in English and Spanish, an effort to provide “detailed, theologically sound ritual guidance for leading safe, care-filled worship during the ongoing pandemic”:

The consultation groups include the UMC and the Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal and other churches, working with medical experts, including CDC staff, and with funding and leadership from UM-affiliated Candler School of Theology of Emory University in Atlanta.  For more information contact:

Mt. Pocono UMC Hanging of the Greens, Dec. 5, 2020. Photos by Rev. Bob Admundsen