Keeping the faith at Christmas

Hinsdale churches plan season's services to minister to people while observing safety

Staging its annual Christmas Eve indoor live nativity program has always been a significant undertaking for Hinsdale Covenant Church.

But orchestrating it during a pandemic? Not even the wise men could wrangle that.

"There's absolutely no way to do what we were doing safely," said the church's lead pastor, Lars Stromberg.

So the decision was made to relocate the manger and all of its entourage outside.

"We're going to take our live experience that people love and appreciate and move that out into the parking lot," Stromberg said. "Families still have an opportunity to interact with the story and the animals."

Was closing the simulated stable this year ever an option?

"There was never movement toward not doing something," he said, directing people to to sign up for a 15-minute slot between 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. (many already are full). "We're trying to keep that tradition going."

COVID-19 safety protocols will be followed, including face masks and social distancing, he said.

The church is also offering in-person Christmas Eve candlelight services at 6 and 8 p.m., which will be livestreamed, as well.

"We're just thankful to have those options," Stromberg said.

The church has definitely been quieter this year, but that doesn't mean there's been less to attend to, he explained.

"People are really hurting. We've spent lots of time on the phone, lots of time connecting with people who are just feeling heavy and sad and just aware of the toll that this year has taken on people mentally and emotionally," Stromberg said.

Reaching out to those in assisted living and medical facilities along with trying to minister to young people feeling the absence of normal social dynamics have been a focus of the church community's energies.

He hopes observing the season's special events will help heal some of the pain.

"We as churches can offer something that other institutions may not," Stromberg said.

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St. Isaac Jogues

At St. Isaac Jogues Church, parishioners can register for one of more than two dozen in-person Masses between Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Deacon Bill Dunn said people can sign up for a time at

"They are filling up fast," he said, noting the church has been holding in-person services throughout much of the pandemic.

But Christmas, as under normal conditions, is a special case.

"Christmas is challenging because of the great demand," Dunn said. "We've added at least 50 percent more Masses than normal. It takes a great number of volunteers and ministers that would help during Mass and also with sanitizing, greeting people and getting people safely to their seats.

"Those who are stepping up to volunteer are beyond value."

Dunn expects people who have refrained from attending service will be moved to return for Christmas.

"It almost seems like there's been a pent-up demand and seems like it's all coming home to roost because of Christmas," he said. "I think there's a need for people to come back to their faith."

A full list of in-person and online services will run in the Dec. 24 issue.

Union Church

Rev. Mike Solberg, senior minister at Hinsdale's Union Church, said the faith community has tried to leverage technology in its Christmas programs this year.

"We've been continuing to connect with people through our online services and other online events and daily video devotionals through all of advent leading up to Christmas," Solberg said.

The annual Christmas pageant also went virtual, with 12 different families acting out 12 scenes that were edited together for the complete story.

"We've never done an online Christmas pageant before, but we did want to involve as many families and we could," he related.

For those desiring in-person fellowship, the church will hold an outdoor gathering on Christmas Eve.

"We figure if we combine brevity, face masks, social distancing and no singing, we can do that safely," Solberg said. "Everyone is welcome. We're just going to do kid-friendly version of a Christmas Eve service."

Solberg said the church has striven to negotiate the pandemic with a mix of approaches to worship and outreach.

"It took a lot of consideration and extra planning and learning to do things in new ways," he said. "We're trying to find the sweet spot for the technology, realizing that an online presence is different from an in-person presence. We're trying to take advantage of that reality in some ways, recognizing the strengths and limitations of the medium."

The church also will hold its annual Longest Night Service online Dec. 21 to minister to those struggling this season.

"The service is focused especially on those who find Christmas to be a difficult time," he said.

He observed that virtual events have boosted participation in some cases and he looks forward to seeing church members this Christmas, whether face to face or through a screen.

"One of the things (this experience) has stirred in me is a sense of how resilient people can be. My congregation has weathered this storm reasonably well," he said.

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Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean