Christmas services go forward with COVID still a threat

·3 min read

Dec. 22—The Christmas season is here and the holidays at area churches are looking a lot more normal than they were the year before.

"Last year we had a Christmas Eve service and only had about 10 people show up," said Westminster Presbyterian Church Pastor Cheryl Thorne. "We had a lot more people watch online. This year I think we will have more people at the service than online."

Christ United Methodist Church in Washington began its annual Christmas observance on Tuesday evening with the annual Blue Christmas service. The service is held on the Winter Solstice to help people through their dark times. Last year the service was done virtually. This year it was live.

"There are lot of people walking around smiling that are really hurting," said Reverend Jerald Turner. "Not everyone's Christmas is merry. We have people who are struggling with the loss of family and are grieving for other reasons. We hold this service to reach out to those people and help them validate those down feelings during the holidays."

Once again, the holidays and celebrations have landed with the COVID pandemic in full force. Daviess County remains in the State Department of Health's "orange" category meaning there is still a good likelihood of COVID spread.

"I was glad to see the 'orange' designation, because a 'red' rating is something I really didn't want for the holidays," said Daviess County Public Health Nurse Kathy Sullender. "The thing is that this year we don't only have COVID to worry about. We are getting a lot of reports of influenza-A and a stomach virus that is leaving a lot of people very sick."

People are looking for ways to protect themselves through the holidays.

"I tell them first of all, if you are sick stay home and don't spread whatever it is you have," said Sullender. "Whether it is a family gathering or a larger event like a church service, wear a mask, social distance when you can and use good hand hygiene."

At many area churches those protocols will be in place. Church officials say it is not about mandating but about the congregation being aware of the possibility of spreading disease and caring about their fellow congregants.

"The people at our services are wonderful," said Turner. "They practice the COVID protocols. They wear masks when they are moving about the church, but do take them off when they are seated in the pews."

"We are masked," said Thorne, who even though fully vaccinated did get hit with a breakthrough case of COVID earlier this year. "People still feel they need to protect themselves, their loved ones and our most vulnerable members of our church."

Both the Christ United Methodist Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church are planning special Christmas Eve services. With Daviess County remaining in the "orange" category the church leaders were spared some tough decisions.

"I had told the church that if we wound up 'red' that I would recommend canceling live services," said Turner. "I am glad I didn't have to make that call for Christmas Eve."

Like most everyone else, church leaders are frustrated that the pandemic has drug out so long. But they have no problem in seeing that the safety protocols remain in place, even during Christmas, and while they may want to be over COVID, COVID is not done.

"I am as frustrated as anyone," said Thorne. "I want to go back to the way things were, but the situation is not good. There are problems all over the state and some hospitals are asking for the National Guard's assistance."

"We still have to keep people safe and healthy," said Turner and he quoted the three principals of Methodist Church founder John Wesley as guiding the church through the pandemic. "Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. That tells us to protect our people, and while we may have to go about delivering things differently, the message will remain the same."

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