During COVID, Spokane Churches Find Creative Ways to Celebrate Christmas Season
Despite the barriers COVID-19 has posed for faith communities in 2020, Churches across the community are finding innovative ways to celebrate the holiday season in community.
St. John’s Cathedral decided to adapt their usual Christmas traditions to a COVID-friendly format. Pre-COVID, the tree of sharing would involve congregation members pulling tags from a Christmas tree to see what items are needed from the congregation’s partner ministries.
COVID was not enough to halt the tree of sharing tradition.
“[We] put a list, emailed it out to the congregation, and had a printed version in our monthly newsletter, inviting people to drop by the church,” said Heather VanDeventer, Dean of St. John’s Cathedral. “I was really pleased that we had people who did do that… this first went out on a Thursday and we had people stopping by on Friday with items to donate which was just great.”
Trying Something New
St. John’s also tried something new this year, which VanDeventer foresees becoming a tradition for them in the future. The church decided to invite parishioners to make a donation to a particular mission partner, and using leftover funds that had been donated by parishioners, the church would match the donations and deliver the checks to mission partners.
“I think that folks liked that, and so we’ll probably look to do that in future years as well. Not just the bring in an item, but also for those of you who prefer to just send your money directly to them for their needs, to do it in that way as well,” VanDeventer said.
St. John’s is also continuing their tradition, Simple Gifts, where they partner with West Central Abbey’s Guests at the Dinner Table feeding ministry.
First Presbyterian Church of Spokane is revamping their holiday traditions with a socially distant Advent art show. The event is listed on their website as “Honest Advent: Stations of Art, Prayer, and Wonder.”
“We love decorating our sanctuary for Christmas and just making it a really special place and so we were thinking about ‘how could we give an opportunity for people to be in the sanctuary if they’d like to come?,’” said Brenda Norton, director of adult ministries.
The director of student ministries, Brad Hauge, has a friend named Scott Erickson (@Scottthepainter on Instagram) who wrote and illustrated a book called “Honest Advent.” First Presbyterian purchased the package to print posters of the artwork from “Honest Advent” as well as the reflections written by Erickson that go with each piece of art.
It is more than just an art exhibit, however, Norton thinks of it as prayer stations.
“You’re not just going through and observing the art, but you’re reflecting on it and being prayerful as you walk through,” she said.
First Presbyterian has also added their own complimentary reflection prompts in a few places throughout the display.
And Maintaining Past Traditions
The church is also maintaining some of their past traditions like Christmas Eve worship, their Toy Store, and their Handel’s Messiah sing-along.
They will have three socially distant Christmas Eve worship services folks can make reservations to attend (3:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m.)
The annual Toy Store has been scaled back due to COVID, but they were still committed to collecting donations and providing a space for families to come and purchase brand new toys for 70% off of their original prices.
The sing-along of Handel’s Messiah is a 100+ year old tradition at First Presbyterian, complete with a full orchestra and choir.
“It always overflows and fills our sanctuary out into our reception room. We didn’t want to lose that tradition,” Norton said.
As a result, the church’s music and worship director dubbed together individual recordings of choir members, instrumentalists, and even past performances to put together a partial sing-along event. The sing-along was live-streamed on Dec. 19, and is now available to watch on their Facebook page.
Finding Connection Still
While COVID has resulted in unprecedented circumstances for this holiday season, faith communities are still finding meaningful points of connection within the community. COVID has not put an end to the community’s generosity, but has opened the door for more creative ways clergy and parishioners can continue to serve their communities.
VanDeventer shared that COVID presented the opportunity to minister to folks who grew up outside of a liturgical tradition, so they were able to teach some folks — outside, of course — about the Advent wreath and candles.
St. John’s also created an advent prayer booklet for parishioners to use in the mornings and evenings.
“That’s been a neat way to invite the cathedral to pray the same prayers together. I know we have people across the congregation who are praying those morning prayers together or praying those evening prayers together,” VanDeventer said.
Thank You, Technology
COVID may have us at further physical distances, technology has made it easier to maintain a sense of connection and community this holiday season. VanDeventer is excited for their Christmas Eve livestream service because the digital platform will still allow parishioners to see the cathedral decorated for the Christmas season.
“While we won’t be able to be in the space of the congregation, we can still be gathered in this alternate way,” she said.
COVID has made the holiday’s hard, but church leaders are working hard to bring the holiday spirit to their congregations, however that may look in this unprecedented year.
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Ginger Monroe is a Gonzaga University student from Kokomo, Indiana. She studies communications studies and Spanish, with minors in women’s and gender studies; and solidarity and social justice. She has experience writing for Gonzaga’s student-run newspaper, has work published in two of Gonzaga’s writing journals, and is the 2021 editor-in-chief of Gonzaga’s yearbook. In her free time she loves to travel, spend time outside, watch excessive amounts of Netflix, bury herself in a good book, or spend quality time with her friends. You can probably find her at a coffee shop on most Saturdays, where she gets all of her most important words onto their pages.