Many churches across the United States are canceling some or all in-person Christmas services amid a further rise in COVID cases that have put people on vacation for a second year.
Among these churches was the Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital; St. John the Divine, the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; and the historic Old South Church in Boston.
Old South Senior Minister Reverend Nancy Taylor said the church was moving its popular Christmas Eve service online only.
“While we cherish these guests under normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances. We put the health and safety of our volunteers and staff first,” Taylor told The Associated Press. We know how disappointing it is. “
Leaders at the Washington National Cathedral said all services would only be offered remotely until Jan. 9, with no devotees or visitors allowed into the cathedral.
“Given the spike in infections, I simply cannot justify assembling massive crowds as the public health situation worsens around us,” said Cathedral Dean The Right Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith .
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Washington’s National City Christian Church has also canceled its Christmas Eve service and will switch to online worship exclusively at least until mid-January.
In New York City, which is experiencing a record number of positive tests for COVID-19, executives at St. John Divine have said they are moving all Christmas services online only.
“The time has come once again to prioritize the needs and concerns of our community at large,” the cathedral said on its website.
In-person services are among the many victims of the omicron variant of COVID, which has shaken vacation plans for people not only in the United States, but around the world. Thousands of vacationers are stranded due to flight cancellations.
Other churches that canceled in-person Christmas services included the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Springfield, Illinois, and the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio.
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Bishop Timothy Clarke, senior pastor of the First Church of God, announced his decision live on the church website Thursday evening, noting that worshipers and church leaders have tested positive for COVID.
“As a pastor, as an under-shepherd, as a spiritual leader, your health, your well-being, as well as the state of your soul, are my primary responsibilities,” said Clarke. “And so out of abundance of care, worry, caution, we are making this decision.”
Other churches are planning outdoor services or have offered a hybrid of online and in-person worship, often with strict restrictions on who is in attendance. These included the requirement to wear masks and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Westchester County Bedford Presbyterian Church was among the churches planning to conduct in-person Christmas services.
The church noted that although omicron is highly contagious, “infections seem to lead to milder cases, especially for those who are vaccinated.” Therefore, he would move forward with in-person services while practicing precautionary measures, such as requiring indoor masks, maximum ventilation, and shorter sermons.
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At All Saints Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, Reverend Steven Paulikas made a similar decision.
Paulikas told AP “We have to do what the congregation needs most – and what we need most right now is beauty and hope.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.