A Very COVID Christmas
Before discussing the possibilities of Christmas this winter, I want to let the parishioners of Immaculate Conception know that Sarah Collier will be retiring in mid-November. She has faithfully served as the Music Director for nearly two years. She came to us after retiring from Holy Angels in Sidney and has stayed longer than any of us could have hoped. We are very grateful for her generosity and her wonderful example. Leading music during Mass and the Sacraments was never about her, but about leading people to God and worshipping Him. Please thank her for her generosity and leadership. May she have a restful retirement after decades of service to God’s Church. Please pray for our parish as we look to fill the void left by her departure.
As the months continue and the response to the Coronavirus drags out longer than any of us would have guessed, we continue to respond to the present and plan for the future. Some have questioned how much longer we will have to socially distance at Mass. It will probably stay this way at least through the end of the year. Some people speculate that everything will return to normal after the November election. However I don’t think it is responsible to assume that to be the case. The prudent thing to do is to plan that things will continue as they are and hope that the restrictions will lessen sooner rather than later.
One of the major things on our radar is the celebration of Christmas. It is one of the holiest days of the year during which we celebrate the Incarnation of the Word, the birth of Jesus our Savior. It is a day when many people come to Mass. We normally welcome around 3,000 people to Mass between our eight Christmas Masses. Christmas Masses are normally the fullest Masses of the year. We add chairs, pack pews, and worshippers stand.
This presents quite the problem for social distancing. How do we welcome 3,000 people when we can only utilize every other pew? It seems that there will be no room at the inn. Our staff and pastoral council have been brainstorming possibilities. Nothing has been decided and I want to inform you what is on the table for discussion. There are many possibilities that have been suggested and some of them can be combined to pose a solution.
We could try to recruit more priests so that we could add more Masses (Fr. Jedidiah and I couldn’t add anymore). I’m not sure how well this will work because it sounds like every parish in the Archdiocese is trying to recruit retired priests, many of whom are hesitant to go out in public. Also adding more Masses means scheduling more musicians, communion distributors, etc.
Christmas falls on a Friday, which means Christmas Eve is on Thursday and the Feast of the Holy Family is Sunday, December 27th. We could ask people to come either on Christmas or the Feast of the Holy Family to split up the crowd. This could cut crowds in half. It is possible to assign people/families to particular Masses, to ensure that Masses aren’t overcrowded. However some pastoral council members were hesitant to do this because everyone already missed Easter Mass this year. Do we want to limit the number that can come for Christmas too? Also I don’t know how receptive people would be to signing up for Mass or being assigned to a Mass.
Another possibility is to have a live video feed to alternative spaces. These spaces would include the Parish Life Center, halls, and the basement. Those who wouldn’t fit in the church building could watch on a TV in these spaces. This presents some logistical problems, especially in terms of equipment. Live TV feeds are different than live-streaming on Facebook or YouTube. Also we only have equipment for one parish, not all four. We would probably have to hire a production company to assist and rent their equipment.
Finally we could rent the Junior Fair Building at the Auglaize County Fairground and celebrate all of our Christmas Masses there. The building can hold 450-500 people with social distancing. It would be a lot of set up, moving liturgical supplies, having sufficient music, and decorating. Also many would be disappointed that Christmas Mass wouldn’t occur at their parish.
I mentioned the drawbacks of each option. As you could imagine, each option has positive aspects to it as well. Please remember these are possibilities and nothing has been decided. I would appreciate your prayers because there isn’t an easy decision. Each option has benefits and drawbacks. A decision will be made by Thanksgiving at the latest.
I appreciate your flexibility as we look forward to Christmas. I know that we are all hoping for things to be normal again, however it will take some more patience. Know that our pastoral team and pastoral council are weighing these options and we welcome your feedback. Please direct your feedback to pastoral council members, their names are included in the bulletin.
The good news is that we will be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. No matter what happens, Christ enters our world to save us. No matter how bleak things appear, the radiance of the light of Christ pierces the darkness.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Sean Wilson