Advent wreaths are used to mark the passage of the season./Micha L. Rieser - Wikipedia

Spokane Churches Find Ways To Celebrate Advent Virtually Due To COVID Restrictions

Spokane Churches Find Ways To Celebrate Advent Virtually Due To COVID Restrictions

By Matthew Kincanon

Even though the recent surge in COVID cases has resulted in further restrictions and social distancing during the holidays, churches throughout Spokane are finding the means to celebrate Advent and support each other while keeping at a safe distance.

Andrea “Andy” CastroLang, senior pastor at Westminster United Church of Christ, said that she and members of the church will be engaging in activities through ZOOM. Whether it’s wreath-making, baking cookies, having a slideshow Christmas pageant or the youth group making cards for the elderly, members of the church will still be able to connect throughout these troubled times. Not just in Spokane, but across the country as well with friends and members in Montana, Washington D.C., Colorado and Arizona thanks to reconnections made through the application.

Andy CastroLang

She described Advent as a traditional season of joyfully anticipating the birth of Christ. She said the current restrictions make people understand waiting in a whole new way. Similar to scriptural stories of waiting for the Kingdom of God, people are not where they hope or want to be and so they have to live in anticipation, hope and frustration for when they can be at church together again.

With that strained patience and people not being where they want to be, she said that it is important they recognize themselves in the stories of Scripture, trusting God knows what’s going on even when they don’t, and be willing to take one step in front of the other with humility and patience.

“We don’t know how much longer this [pandemic] is gonna’ be and we have to just get through each day with the humble ability to wait and to go through each day,” she said. 

Despite the circumstances, they are doing their best to stay connected and sustain that joyful spirit and others are figuring out how to maintain the family part of Christmas and help one another when they can’t be together.

ZOOM has been a helpful tool during the pandemic where usual face-to-face activities are now being done from computer screens. CastroLang said that members will be making Advent wreaths, baking cookies, worshipping and lighting their Advent candles together virtually from their homes, allowing them to continue traditions that normally took place at church.

With cookie exchanges, in particular, members get together on ZOOM, talk about the cookies they are baking and leave prepackaged ones at the church for others to pick-up so they don’t have to be in close contact with each other.

“It’s true something is missing, but, intentionally, we’re trying to see how we can continue to do the things that matter,” she said.

COVID or no COVID, CastroLang described how Christmas is also a time of sadness and not the Norman Rockwell story for all people where some have to find ways to care for themselves, meaningful rituals and a family of choice. Add the millions of Americans who are unemployed and at-risk of losing their homes, it makes this season especially hard.

It is because of this that folks at Westminster are trying to figure out how to help and support each other. Whether it’s helping buy presents and other forms of assistance, she said that this pandemic has made people talk to each other more.

“It’s not just because Christmas traditions matter, but this year especially, any way we can make one another smile, any way we can make someone’s loneliness less intense, we’re working on that this year,” CastroLang said. “Every way we can find to encourage each other, to support each other, to say I remember you and I see you when we can’t touch each other or be in the same space together. We’re very intentional about feeding each other’s souls.”

She added that the church is not a building, it is the people.

Other online Advent activities that will happen include “Black Madonna Friday Online Fun + Faith Playshop” hosted by Creators’ Table at West Central Abbey, which has been rescheduled for Jan. 9, 2021. The full day online retreat will teach about the Black Madonna and attendees will spend time at home creating a mixed media icon to pray with during Advent.

Also, Nick Damascus, associate staff at Union Gospel Mission, said that he and members of the Orthodox church are engaging in a counter-culture activity known as the 40 day Advent fast. During this, they fast for 40 days before Dec. 25, while examining the Scriptures, and enjoy feasting after the Nativity (Christmas). The fast began for Eastern Orthodox on Nov. 15 while Oriental Orthodox started on Nov. 25 (according to the Coptic calendar).

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