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Christmas is when Christians come together to celebrate Jesus. Many churches nationwide planned to have Christmas services in person this year, some coming together for the first time since 2019. The District Church, a multi-ethnic, nondenominational church in Washington, D.C., had three scheduled in-person services for Christmas Eve.
However, lead pastor Aaron Graham announced that due to the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, Christmas Eve would be filmed and shared online instead. The District Church has already made plans to go virtual online for the two Sundays after Christmas to give their 20 member staff time to unwind for the Christmas and New Year season.
Other church leaders, especially in major cities where COVID-19 cases are taking off, have also decided to hold virtual services over in-person. Others weigh their options as health officials predict record-high case levels overlapping with holiday travel and gatherings. Unfortunately, this is a scenario that many pastors didn’t see coming.
Months ago, almost all U.S. churches finally returned to in-person services, and countries started lifting church lockdowns. As the Advent season started, the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots made it seem like Christmas would be different from last year, but then came the omicron variant.
The variant took off in the United Kingdom, with record cases reported last week. Two of London’s most prominent evangelical churches had to reschedule their Christmas gatherings due to the case outbreak. Holy Trinity Brompton and Hillsong Chruch London postponed their popular carol services.
In many churches, Christmas is one of the best-attended celebrations of the year. Annual festivities like carol services, pageants, dinners, and other celebrations draw big crowds. Some churches are choosing to continue their in-person services, but they’re echoing the need to take precautions and reminding people to stay home if they’re sick or have been in contact with a sick person.
The cancellation of church services prompted by omicron takes on a weightier significance than missing one exceptional service; It’s a sign that the pandemic continues to take a toll despite the last year’s hopes, prayers, and precautions. The pandemic has caused a lot of angst amongst people and families worldwide.
The church is the one place that God’s People can come together and worship Him. However, the pandemic and the omicron variant have changed how Christians worship. Instead of coming together in person, the pandemic has caused virtual church experiences to take off. It doesn’t matter how you worship the Lord, but it would be nice if believers could worship together in person again.
Due to COVID-19 and the omicron variant, it may be some time before Christians can come together for worship again. Hopefully, with the wide availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots, life will return to the way we knew it soon. Until then, we must accept the new normal of the way life is now. As for Pastor Graham at The District Church, despite the challenges caused by the omicron variant, he remains hopeful for 2022. Graham believes that the church is on the cusp of a spiritual awakening, and God is preparing His people for a transition.