Churches adjust to a very COVID Christmas

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TAMPA— Undoubtedly the pandemic has changed the way Florida Baptist churches worship, but it has not stopped them from sharing the love of Christ with a world in need.

This Christmas season, celebrations in Florida Baptist churches will look a bit different from past seasons, but the celebration of the Christ Child will go on.

Large Christmas productions have been scaled back to maintain social distancing guidelines, keeping people safe, as well as keeping in mind financial struggles many are currently facing due to the pandemic.

“We have had to make adjustments this Christmas season,” said Ron Upton, minister of worship and creative arts at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.

“We made the decision to cancel our annual ticketed Christmas presentation. With so many people dealing with job insecurities, it did not make sense to charge for tickets,” he said. And, “to maintain social distancing, we would have had to add more nights than we could handle.”

In the weeks and months leading up to Christmas, rehearsals for events have also been adjusted at First Baptist Church in Palm Coast.

“Some of the changes we have made to adjust to the ongoing COVID challenges include having a smaller choir in a larger room for rehearsals where the chairs can be spread out with more space between them,” said Aaron Hoogerwerf, associate pastor of worship.

“Since we have a smaller group with limited rehearsal time for our Christmas musical this year, we will be singing familiar music from recent past Christmas musicals,” he continued.

Palm Coast has also combined two annual events into one, the Christmas musical and dinner fellowship, and made them free ticketed events to know attendance in advance to adequately prepare the building to observe social distancing and mask guidelines.

Calvary Church, ChristmasSimilarly, Calvary Church in Clearwater is limiting capacity to 50 percent across its three campuses. The service on Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Clearwater Campus is reserved for the most vulnerable guests, including the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, or those who are uncomfortable attending large gatherings, according to a statement on the church’s website. And for those who do not wish to attend the worship in person, the service will be livestreamed that day and Christmas Day on the church’s website.

Some churches continue to make last minute changes to their program as they live with the reality of coronavirus infections among their own.

Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church intended to have an in-person Christmas program outdoors on church grounds, said pastor Lennox Zamore. “We dubbed it Christmas in Central Park” and it would include a “light program with each of our seven small groups doing a unique feature of the Christmas story,” as well as a plenary program with choir music, a band and dancers.

However, in the week leading up to Christmas, members of a church family tested positive for the coronavirus which resulted in closing the church and reverting to live broadcasts until further notice.

“The Christmas program will go on but will be modified to be a broadcast including remote choir singing, dancers and drama. All to be performed by persons who test negative for COVID-19,” he said.

For the New Year’s Eve service, the church will release biodegradable white dove balloons “in honor of family members who lost love ones and we will also be burying a 2020 capsule.” Both events will be streamed online.

While churches may be less crowded this Christmas, Americans may be more reflective on the spiritual significance of the holiday, according to findings by LifeWay Research. About 3 in 5 adults—or 59 percent–said their spiritual reflections this year will stay the same, but 19 percent say they expect it to increase. Even among the religiously unaffiliated, 10 percent said the pandemic has made them more likely to spend time in spiritual reflection during the holidays this year.

“We are very encouraged and expect God to do great things for us in this most unprecedented season of hope,” said Zamore.

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