News and Views

For BWC churches, a different kind of Christmas

Posted by Erik Alsgaard on


The year 2020, of course, has been like no other. Since the pandemic started dealing its deadly effects in mid-March, churches across the Baltimore-Washington Conference have had to adjust quickly to changing realities.

Those changes included moving worship services out of buildings and into parking lots, computer screens, and smartphones. Now, with Christmas just around the corner, congregations are having to re-think what their time-honored traditions and worship services will look like this year.

At Fairhaven UMC, the Rev. Ken Hawes said they have decorated the sanctuary for Advent and Christmas, as they do every year, but an added feature this year are electric candles … on timers.

“Our sanctuary will be open for individual and family unit visits for contemplation and prayer on Christmas Eve,” Hawes said. “I will likely write a devotional guide for those who visit. Visits are scheduled in 10-minute increments, with 10 minutes of no guests in between each visitor.”

The church’s 7 p.m. Zoom service will include videos of families reading the Christmas scriptures in front of their Christmas trees, with at least one member in an appropriate costume for the reading, Hawes said.

“The Children's Church School is recording a video skit as a ‘Message for Children of All Ages,’ he said. “The service will include several video anthems and ‘live’ carols, and we'll conclude with asking everyone to light a candle or luminary at home as we sing Silent Night.

The Rev. Katie Bishop reports that at her church, Middletown UMC, for their family drive-in, “We are asking people to decorate their cars like characters of the nativity, and the whole car will then have a part in the nativity story.”

Good Shepherd (Baltimore), Milford Mill, and Essex UMCs are combining forces for a masked pageant, pre-recorded, said the Rev. Bonnie McCubbin. All three pastors are in two households (the pastor at Essex is also the youth director).

“Between our two households we have 14 people, including a pregnant woman and a newborn,” McCubbin said, “so we were able to do things safer with just two households.”

The churches have also done “Advent in a Bag” and “Christmas in a Bag,” with devotional and household activities with all supplies provided.

Rev. Chris Owens, the lead pastor at First Saints Community UMC in Leonardtown, highlighted his multi-campus congregation doing a “Progressive Nativity.”

“Folks will drive between our four campuses to see an artistic representation of a piece of the Nativity narrative,” he said, “while listening to a Podcast reflection. They’ll also receive pieces that when combined will make a small Nativity they can take home.”

The church is also partnering with a local recreation center to host a drive-in Christmas Eve service in the parking lot. The idea, Owens said, is to provide a safe way for the church to gather “while also being a blessing to our community.”

The Rev. James McSavaney, the pastor at Arnolia UMC in Parkville, reported that over Advent, members of his church have been reading devotional e-mails every day.

“In these e-mails, households in the congregation share how this past year has affected them: how have they been blessed? What have been their major concerns? What adjustments have they had to make?” he said.

At the North Carroll Cooperative Parrish, the lead pastor, Rev. Melissa Hamill Rudolph, said they are doing a “Christmas Character Caravan Challenge.” Using podcasts, easily downloaded from their website, participants drive to each of the six churches in the parish where they listen and learn about characters in the biblical story of Christmas.

The Rev. Michael Beiber, who serves Mount Zion UMC in Myersville, said that the church’s organist is also a skilled woodworker and made lively advent candle holders.

“We have sent these to families along with advent candles so they can follow the liturgy and lighting of the advent wreath from home during our Facebook live services,” Beiber said. The church’s Christmas Eve service will be a combination live stream and drive-in, he said.

The church is also collecting and sorting Christmas cards and delivering them in person. Previously, those cards were delivered using the church’s mailboxes inside the building.

They’re also doing a COVID cookie exchange where people submit their name, get paired with a buddy, and then are given COVID-safe instructions for baking and swapping cookies.

The Rev. Alicia Vanisko, pastor at Linden Heights UMC in Parkville, said her church has been doing a worship series, “Angels Among Us.” In addition, the church has an interactive art display in its front yard.

“A parishioner,” she said, “creates art on a blank yard sign depicting the Scripture for the week and we put it in the yard. A large 4x4 piece of plywood painted with chalk paint is put up next to the art with a bag of chalk. The public is invited to add words each week that describe hope, faith, joy, peace, and love.”

Because the church is right on Harford Road, she added, the church sees a lot of vehicle and foot traffic. “People are really responding to the art,” she said, “and the church to express themselves.”

 Many churches are employing creative use of video. One such church is Otterbein UMC in Hagerstown. The Rev. Elizabeth Jackson, the church’s pastor, said that they’re using video each week.

“The video … has participants passing an object while reading snippets of Scripture or repeating the theme for the week,” she said. “It was a way to ‘see’ one another during Advent, particularly those who couldn't come to the building even if we opened.”

Jackson said the four-minute videos have been popular, and include more than 20 people each week who otherwise would not be in worship.

“We also delivered or sent Advent boxes – candles, holder, Scripture in a frame, with instructions – for our folks to use to center their worship and family during Advent,” she said. A candlelight service of lessons and carols is planned for Dec. 18, and family services planned on their parking lot for Christmas Eve.

One church is using a low-power FM transmitter in their services. Hunt’s Memorial UMC in Towson is having a drive-in outdoor service, according to its pastor, the Rev. Travis Knoll. There will be scenes of Christmas with sign language interpretation, handbell music, middle school readers, and “lots of costumes and fun,” he said. “We are still working out the sets and other details, like lighting, but we have an FM transmitter so people can enjoy the show safely in their cars, with the heat on.”



Leah flory Dec 23, 2020 11:56am

So many ideas!!! Thank you.