By Leah Sander
WARSAW — COVID-19 has caused area churches to make some changes this year in relation to Christmas activities.
All of the pastors that InkFreeNews interviewed at Warsaw and Winona Lake churches said they were offering online services for Christmas Eve, with some also having in-person ones in addition.
One church, Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, 1200 Kings Highway, did take reservations for its in-person services, said its Proclamation Pastor Kip Cone. That’s because of restricted seating due to social distancing.
All of those reservations for its 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. services are taken, he said. People can still view the services online at the church’s website at wlgbc.com or the church’s YouTube channel WL Grace.
Over at Warsaw Community Church, 1855 S. County Farm Road, its service on Christmas Eve will only be online, said church co-Senior Pastor Todd Gerst. That may be viewed at the church’s website warsaw.cc, Facebook page or YouTube channel at 7 p.m.
At Warsaw First Christian Church, 115 Park Ridge Drive, people are welcome to either attend the Christmas Eve service at 4:30 p.m. in person or watch it online at www.fccwarsaw.com or on the church’s Facebook page.
Pastor Matthew Rogers said there’ll be COVID-19 safety measures in place for those who want to attend in person. The church has planned on overflow seating to allow more social distancing space if needed.
Pastor Brian Smith of First United Methodist Church of Warsaw, with locations at 179 S. Indiana St. and 1692 W. Lake St., says the church’s service will also be virtual only.
People may view it starting at 7 p.m. at warsawfumc.org or the church’s Facebook page or YouTube channel. WIOE, Oldies 101.1 FM, will rebroadcast the service at 11 p.m.
Warsaw Missionary Church, 1849 E. Springhill Road, is offering a both in-person and online service at 6 p.m, said Pastor Ken Chupp.
People may view it virtually via the church’s Facebook page.
Fellowship Baptist Church, 1838 E. Kosciusko Drive, Warsaw, is also going the in-person and virtual route.
Pastor Layne Sumner said the service starts at 6 p.m., with people being able to see it online at the church’s YouTube channel FBC Warsaw.
Changes in activities
Aside from adding the online services, churches surveyed said they also had to change other normal Christmas activities this year due to COVID-19.
Chupp said WMC canceled its normal caroling event this year. Rogers said they changed their usual parent-child gingerbread house-building activity to a scavenger hunt for families around the area and the women’s Christmas party went virtual this year.
Sumner said they’ve had to forgo their regular nursing home visits. Smith said their church didn’t have any sort of musical this year.
As for the effect all changes have had on their congregations, pastors echoed that it’s probably just the struggle to adjust that all people have been feeling this year.
Cone said WLGBC has been trying to balance caring about people’s physical protection with their needing to connect emotionally and relationally. Gerst said WCC has been concerned about the isolation people have been feeling.
Yet all pastors said the basic message of the Christmas season has not really changed with COVID-19: that being on the birth of Jesus and its significance.
“Our focus is on Jesus. That remains the same,” said Chupp. Rogers said his church has been “laser-focused on the hope that we have” through the birth of Jesus.
Gert said if anything, turmoil this year has caused WCC to look at “the lack of peace on earth and goodwill to men,” which is mentioned in the Christmas story in the Bible.
Sumner said struggles this year have caused his congregation to be empathetic with those in the Christmas story who had some “pretty adverse circumstances themselves.”
Cone said WLGBC’s theme for this year’s Christmas season is “Joy” related to Jesus’ birth.
“The truth of Christmas has not changed one single bit,” he said.