Churches alter Christmas services to ensure safety

The First Presbyterian Church in Watertown is offering a virtual Christmas Eve service. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Not worshipping in a church on Christmas Eve is hard for many members to grasp, resulting in some increasing their Mass services, taking reservations or trying to make the best out of going strictly virtual this year.

The grave year of not attending Mass in person due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accumulated and combusted into the holiday, leaving some members to see their churches remain dark during a time meant for light.

Sue E. Bearman has been working in a church for nearly 40 years. She’s been an administrative assistant at the First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St., for the last 22 years.

This year Christmas Eve service will be held virtually since the number of people who show up on the holiday would likely not be able to be socially distanced inside the church.

“The church has always been lit and there’s always been candles, and now you will drive by and see the church dark on Christmas Eve,” she said. “They had to really think about this because not having people in person for Christmas is just not heard of.”

Services at the church will be livestreamed on its website at 11 a.m. Thursday, then again at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s very difficult for me to grasp,” she said. “I’ve been a member of Asbury United Methodist Church for over 50 years and there’s never not been a Christmas Eve service with candlelights.”

Other churches with perhaps more room to work with are going ahead with in-person Mass.

Pastor Jay. W. Seymour, who’s been with the Catholic Community of St. Peter, St. Mary and St. Hedwig in Lowville for three years, said they’ve scaled back other events and increased their number of Christmas Eve Mass services to six, due in large part to them having a second church to open, and that a new pastor recently came on board.

They are livestreaming the 4 p.m. service on their Facebook page and website as well.

“We expect to have smaller crowds,” he said. “We offered more options for Mass so people will still have the opportunity to go to church, but they won’t have to worry about the numbers.”

Their main St. Peter location, 5439 Shady Ave., Lowville, can fit 100 people safely, he said, and there’s a hall in the building where additional members can socially distance and watch the service live on a TV.

“It will be a long day,” he said, “but hopefully a joyful day.”

A church with two locations in Ogdensburg is increasing its Mass services as well to hopefully keep the numbers down at each service.

The St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish, which encompasses the Notre Dame Catholic Church, will have six services between the two locations.

Amy W. Schirmer, who works at the church, said the St. Mary’s church can fit 400 people at half capacity, but not even that many would work because they’re reserving pews for individual families.

“We would only be prepared to do as many as could fit according to COVID regulations,” Ms. Schirmer said, “and at that point, then people would have to try to come back to a different Mass.”

As a result, the Ogdensburg church will have its bishop and two priests working the services at each location from 4 p.m. until midnight Mass.

“I think a lot of it is that Christmas is so dear to Christians and to Catholics who believe in the real presence of Christ and the Eucharist,” she said. “You want to physically be there if you can. It’s very hard not to be there if it’s important to you. I’m so pleased that they have done it this way.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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