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The Rev. David Felton of the First Church in Jaffrey.
Ben Conant / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

 

Christmas is one of the most significant holidays in the Christian religion and often draws larger-than-usual crowds to services — not ideal when COVID-19 guidelines still call for limiting contact with large groups.

As a result, some churches are being creative with their services and many of the traditions that surround them this year. Others are holding in-person services without social distancing or mask requirements.

Sometimes, said Rev. David Felton, pastor at the First Church in Jaffrey, forced creativity can produce some silver linings.

The First Church in Jaffrey isn’t meeting in person for its usual Christmas Eve service, but will be providing an online service for its congregation to watch at home. And some members who wouldn’t have had the chance to participate otherwise get to join in, Felton said.

“We realized that since we’re recording it all in advance, remotely, there are things we can do different than ever before,” Felton said.

Felton said he invited lay readers, people who were members of the church but are away for the winter, or who grew up in Jaffrey but have since moved away, to participate.

“We can bring in people that we wouldn’t necessarily have in person. It’s a silver lining. It’s different, very different. But it has to be this year, because our first concern is keeping people safe. We don’t want to be a spreader,” Felton said.

Singing is one of the possible big spreaders of the virus, as it causes people to project and spread their breath and water molecules over a farther distance. At the same time, Christmas carols and hymns are an integral part of the holiday. The First Church in Jaffrey isn’t the only house of worship to find a way to still have music be a part of its Christmas celebrations.

The Union Congregational Church in Peterborough has already had a Christmas sing-along via Zoom earlier this month, and is planning another service of carols via Facebook Live right after Christmas.

The Peterborough UCC won’t be having an in-person service on Christmas Eve, instead streaming a 7 p.m. service to its members through Facebook Live, but some churches that have been allowing membership through the doors are planning to do the same for Christmas Eve.

Jaffrey Bible Church is making some changes to its Christmas services this year, including canceling its traditional soup dinner, which usually follows its Christmas Eve service.

Jaffrey Bible Church Pastor Fouad Faris said the service will happen in person, though he’s expecting a lower turnout than usual, and depending on the weather, may have some outdoor fellowship time, but the annual supper creates too big a risk to continue this year. The church’s traditional Christmas pageant is also canceled this year.

The traditional Christmas concert is still happening, Faris said, but is being recorded with individual members separately, and then put online.

The church has been offering in-person services, with an option for members to attend online, and has been seeing about 50 percent capacity, Faris said, which makes social distancing possible, though members are still asked to wear masks unless they are in their designated seats.

Faris said the church has been careful, and went to remote services for a few weeks when Faris quarantined after a family member of his was ill, and when a member of the church tested positive for COVID-19. But thus far, there hasn’t been any significant spread within the congregation.

Pastor Ken Whitson of the New Ipswich Congregational Church said the church’s Christmas Eve service typically draws more than 100 people to the church, and will still go on this year. However, the church has already started to consider how to maintain social distancing with more people than usual in the pews, including requiring overflow seating in the balcony and additional chairs.

“We just will deal with whomever comes through the door, as we have been week to week,” Whitson said.

Whitson said the church has been lucky so far, and able to hold in-person services for some time. The church did shut down its youth group for several weeks, after a member’s sibling tested positive for COVID-19. The church didn’t have any positive tests within its own youth group, however, and has been vigilant about social distancing and masking, Whitson said. He said some events that are typically open to the public have been reduced to only members of the church’s Sunday school, and its Bible study groups have moved online, and those precautions will continue.

“We’re following the guidelines of the state, and we have been following those guidelines right along, and we haven’t had a problem,” Whitson said. “That’s working well for us.”

Christian Outreach in Rindge, which had several weeks of remote-only services last month due to positive cases among the congregation, is back in person and also looking forward to Christmas Eve services, said Pastor Bob Hakala.

Hakala, who said the Christmas Eve service typically draws about 100 people, said the church won’t be requiring social-distancing measures or masks, despite the statewide mandate on them.

“We don’t do that. It’s come as you are,” he said. The church does plan to livestream the service for members who don’t want to or cannot attend in person, he said.