MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Local churches are continuing a long-time tradition during the pandemic, hosting Christmas Eve services.
Some churches chose to stream their holiday services while others stuck to the old-fashioned way by coming together in-person.
And some churches, including Surfside United Methodist Church, found a way to incorporate both a virtual and traditional service for members.
Surfside UMC lead pastor Mary Teasley said the church was fully prepared to hold the services in-person, because all fellowship would be done safely and in accordance with medical experts’ guidelines. However, the services did look a bit different tonight, compared to years past.
In previous years, the church held three Christmas Eve services, but due to limited seating and pews being blocked off for distancing, the church added a fourth service to allow more people to attend.
The church posted this information detailing the Christmas Eve service changes on its Facebook event page:
“We are offering our normal schedule of services in the Sanctuary. The 4 pm service will be a family-friendly service. The 7 pm and 11 pm services will be more traditional. The 7 and 11 pm services will also be live-streamed on Facebook. This year, in order to give people more options to attend since seating will be limited, we are offering a service at 5:30 pm in the Family Life Center. The WAVE band will be leading us in music, there will be an interactive reading of the Christmas story, tables will be available for family seating with activities at each place, and a hot chocolate station will greet you as you enter.”
For the first time, the church also required families to register for the Christmas Eve Services ahead of time, to make sure church members had adequate space to meet the social distancing requirements during each service.
Teasley estimated about 50-100 people attended each service. She says they’ve made a few adjustments with communion and the candlelight’s as well, to limit interactions during the service.
“We have prepackaged communion elements,” she said. “Instead of having lit candles at the end of the service, we’ll have these tealights that people will be able to turn on. So everybody doesn’t have to blow out a candle. So we’re doing everything we can do to be as familiar and traditional as possible while keeping everyone safe.”
The church’s director of children and youth ministries, Ashlee Johnson, said the Christmas service is important for families trying to provide kids a sense of normalcy during a time many of them enjoy most-Christmas.
“I know we talk as adults [about] how hard this time has been on us,” she said. “But I think sometimes we forget how hard this has been on kids this year [as well]. Being able to just take a pause in everything that’s going on and worship God together as a family in a casual environment, I think that’s very important.”
Other churches in our area are also adjusting to new safety precautions for their holiday services.
Rev. David Panning of Holy Lamb Lutheran Church said because of social distancing limitations at his church, they joined another church, Risen Christ Lutheran Church, for two in-person Christmas Eve services.
“They invited us to join them,” he said.
For Holy Lamb members unable to attend those services, Panning says his church prerecorded a candleight service that was made available online for families.
“To address the very serious needs of those not able to get out or have access to the internet, we had computer tablets delivered to our members,” said Panning. “[The tablets] have the recorded service on it, including a candlelight closing singing of ‘Silent Night.’ So they can as much as possible experience the joy and blessing of being in worship with others, even when we are not.”
All church leaders our news team spoke with said hosting Christmas Eve services during the pandemic was important so people remember ‘the reason for the season,” while also refueling their love and hope for brighter days ahead.
“When we are in these crises, we can be confident that no matter how dire things look, God still has us in his arms, he is still caring for us,” said Panning.
“The word of the angels’ is ‘Do not be afraid.’,” said Teasley. “While we are not fearful, we are practical in terms of what we need to do in the face of the pandemic. But we are told over and over, do not be afraid. And that’s the word tonight.”