Tri-State houses of worship taking precautions to keep Christmas services pandemic-safe

Posted at 10:23 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 23:15:27-05

CINCINNATI — Keeping the faith in a time when gathering is discouraged has been hard for organizations nationwide and in the Tri-State. With Christmas Eve upon us, houses of worship face a unique set of challenges due to the pandemic.

Services will look a little bit different Christmas Eve and for months to come, but local churches are adapting, including Kenwood Baptist Church.

“It's a time where you're preaching to people who you can't physically see and yet you know are really there,” senior pastor David Palmer told WCPO.

Since March, he said he has led by faith, not by sight, as he pastored the 700 members of Kenwood Baptist.

“We've had people who've lost their lives due to COVID-19 this year,” Palmer said. “We've had other people just crippled by fear.”

Now, two-thirds of his congregation watches services online. For those who come to worship in person, there are taped-off pews for social distancing, overflow spaces on the church campus and outdoor seating when weather permits.

For Christmas Eve, congregants have a chance to pick up candles to light at home. The service itself will be filled with music as usual, but with fewer performers, including Palmer's daughter Salome, sitting a few feet apart.

“I think we're all looking for normalcy in this season and in this world right now and to maintain that continuity,” Salome said.

For Catholic faithful in our area, the Archdiocese of Greater Cincinnati has made changes, too.

Jeremy Helms, director of the Office of Divine Worship and Sacraments, said the Archdiocese has worked hard to keep parishioners connected in a socially-distanced world.

“Some Christian communities have already a pretty robust virtual experience where people are used to worshiping online, and for us as Catholics, it's really built upon an in-person experience of being in the same room as other bodies,” Helms said.

Many parishes have adopted an online reservation system for Masses through the Christmas season.

“Whether it's the Mass schedule – if they've added or subtracted a Mass, what kind of special protocols there are. For example, come in this door, leave by this door," Helms explained.

Their goal is to balance the necessary precautions with the spirit and solemnity of longstanding Christmas celebrations.

Check with your individual house of worship to see how services are operating this Christmas season, keeping in mind that masks are required at most services.