And so this is Christmas - 2020 style...
Covid-19 restrictions necessarily mean limited numbers allowed physically in our church, no carol singing for the congregation and of course no sharing hugs and greetings to wish each other a lovely Christmas as socialising between households or bubbles is strictly not allowed. The rules about no processions, no sharing the Peace, no common cup remain in place too. How can we welcome everyone warmly when we have to restrict numbers to less than half our regular congregation?
And of course we love our singing of carols, Midnight Mass and the joy of meeting on Christmas morning so how to do this in a Covid-19 secure way? We know some of our neighbouring churches have solved some of the restricted number challenges by using a booking system and putting on extra services but we were still not happy about no congregational singing of carols and what if an extra person arrived - no room at the inn? Besides we cannot all gather at the same time and wish each other a happy Christmas and we are most definitely a welcoming and sociable bunch.
Our solution is to extend our regular Sunday weekly experience using Zoom. We have been able to create something of a worshipful and community celebration online together on Sundays this year - we have different people reading lessons, leading prayers, and we have those who lead us in singing because at home we are allowed to sing, hooray! We have also found our adoption of the Orthodox Antidoron custom has helped us this year - each household has some bread to hand. We bless it just before our Eucharistic Prayer and at the time the Vicar receives Communion everyone at home can eat the bread and feel some connection with one another in the sharing of a common loaf. Of course this is not Holy Communion and we don't pretend it is, but it is an inclusive symbolic action and currently a sort of approximation to an Agape moment in these days of extraordinary restrictions.
So we have online services and social events on our timetable this Christmas - it isn't like normal but it will be a real celebration and one in which we keep one another as safe as possible and keep it as open and inclusive as possible.
We won't miss out on decorating the church - there are some modest decorations inside which are being shared on our daily online Advent Calendar (see links on our home page) but we have also decided we will decorate the outside of the building to extend our Christmas celebrations to our wider community.
We have one outdoor event planned - since we cannot welcome families into church on Christmas Eve we have decided to take the Christmas story, the joy of lights in the darkness and carol singing out into the streets instead. This may well be something of a new tradition in years to come...and for those of us who want to make our Communion this will be distributed outdoors too - immediately after our lantern lit carol singing procession. This means that we will not be confined to just the few that we can legally receive inside our building.
Everything else we have planned is live streamed on Zoom - and that means we can include everyone to the joyous worship of this season at Midnight Mass, on Christmas morning and on Christmas Sunday. Carols and candles galore!
Mindful also that more of us than usual are spending Christmas alone or in small households without the fun of extended family or friends meeting up we have included some social events too - again via Zoom. On Christmas day at noon a one hour party slot to drink something festive and wish each other a happy Christmas and on Boxing Day a tea time gathering.
All are welcome - warmly welcome to join us. Simply use the Contact tab to email us and tell us what you wish to attend - you can come to one or all events and dropping in via Zoom is easy if you haven't done it before. You will receive a link, and an order of service, via email with simple instructions to follow. You don't need to download any extra App and it is free. You can join us on a mobile phone or tablet or computer from the comfort of your own home and don't worry about noise - we have worked out ways of dealing with that too. We will be looking forward to being together in this extended space and celebrating Christmas together and we would love to welcome you into the celebrations.
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New year!