MADISON, Ala. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in our area, Asbury Methodist Church is canceling in-person Christmas Eve services.
On the church website, it reads:
With rising cases and our local hospitals reaching capacity, we are committed to love our neighbors well. As a church family, we believe worshiping together ONLINE ONLY for our Madison campus for Christmas Eve is the best way to care for our congregation and staff, our community, and local health care workers.
Lead Pastor Tommy Gray says the decision was tough but was driven by two factors.
“One is safety and one is trying to be a good neighbor in our community, how we can support our community,” said Gray. “With the nature of a Christmas Eve service: larger crowds, blowing out candles, that kind of thing… we just came to believe we couldn’t provide for adequate safety and also a quality worship experience.”
Instead, Asbury will be providing virtual Christmas Eve services for the community.
Pastor Gray says for regular Sunday services, the church has gone back to in-person services, along with online services, but not without safety protocols in place.
“We have a requirement to wear face coverings,” he said. “We’re only opening every other pew or row of chairs. We have reduced the size of choirs, and our ushers are dismissing at the end of the service row by row starting at the back. Sanitizing before and after all the services.”
Of course, Christmas services are different than regular services. They have larger crowds, leading in part to the cancellations.
Even if the church pews aren’t filled for Christmas, Pastor Gray says the message remains the same.
“While we all know the church is not simply a building, there’s a lot of loss not being able to gather here,” he said. “But we’re also able to symbolically say, ‘We’re still the church’ and we’re going to pray for our leaders, our community, for our neighborhoods, and just pray that, ultimately, we’ll see an end to this nightmare as we all want to.”
Asbury Methodist Church will be offering online Christmas Eve services at 4:00pm and 6:00pm on Thursday, Dec. 24. The message will be archived on their website for later viewing. The church is also offering communion elements and candles at their main office to use for at-home worship.
Along with services going virtual, Asbury is challenging the community virtually as well.
Many Christian denominations are observing Advent to prepare and remember the meaning of Christmas. Pastor Gray says the four traditional themes of advent are hope, peace, love, and joy, which is their focus theme this year.
Throughout the weeks of Advent, Asbury has challenged their congregation to experience and share joy in a year that desperately needs some encouragement.
“You know, joy and happiness, they’re not the same thing,” said Gray. “They’re not opposites either, but they’re not the same thing and we can experience the joy of the Lord even when we’re going through suffering or difficulty and so it’s not ignoring that. It’s not pretending it’s not here because we all know, for sure, it’s here, but it’s also saying in the midst of that, God is with us.”
Pastor Gray says his favorite way to spread joy is to give surprise gifts to his neighbors and he encourages others to find at least one way to spread joy to others this season.