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Area churches plan outdoor, virtual festivities for Christmas

Christmas is a time when many families gather to attend church together, lighting candles to symbolize the light of Christ coming into a dark world and singing traditional songs of celebration. This year with Christmas Day just a week away, many churches have embraced the challenge of sharing in the celebration of the birth of Christ while still remaining safe as the world deals with a pandemic.

Although the latest governor’s orders limiting gatherings did not include religious services, some denominations have canceled in-person services, while others, on their own, out of concern for the health and safety of members have followed suit and are offering virtual services.

Some churches, like First United Methodist Church, had considered utilizing a local park for an outdoor candlelight service on Christmas Eve, but decided against it.

Instead, they will share a recorded worship experience with live hosts, according to Lead Pastor Matt Lake. Those will be offered at 6 p.m., Dec. 23 and 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Dec. 24.

“They are actual worship experiences online,’ Lake said.

At 7:30 p.m., Dec. 24, First Church will offer a virtual candlelighting. For that, people will be able to join via ZOOM. Lake said that there will be some reflective singing and then the lighting of candles. The link for this will be on the church’s website just before the event or can be requested ahead of time by contacting the church.

“One of the things that we’ve been sharing with our folks is that this is an opportunity for the church to be the church, in the sense that it’s not defined by a worship experience in four walls, but a chance to share the love and joy of Christ by loving and serving others at this time of the year,” Lake shared.

“We’re trying really hard to focus our joy on the source of joy rather than circumstances to define our joy,” he added.

Lake added that First Church has been looking for creative ways to serve others, such as those working on the frontline this particular Christmas.

Community Baptist Church, Route 87, Montoursville, is planning a more expansive event to celebrate the birth and life of Christ, with a free drive-thru Christmas event, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Dec. 23.

“We are welcoming the community to pull up to our parking lot where they will drive through the parking lot where we will have seven different scenes depicting different aspects of the Christmas story,” a spokesperson for the church said.

“We wanted to do this so that it would be a safe event for people during this time when there are so many things that are being canceled. We are hoping that it will be an encouragement to the community,” they added.

The tableau starts just before Jesus was born and ends with Jesus’ resurrection and features live animals. About 60 people from Community Baptist have volunteered to act out the scenes.

When people pull into the parking lot, they will be given a booklet that they can follow along with the scenes so that each page will explain the scene that they are witnessing, they said.

The local fire department and police will be helping with traffic control at the event.

There is no registration for the event.

“What we loved about it is that it’s going to be outside, so we feel it’s a safer thing for our volunteers and it’s also safe for the people coming to see it,” they said.

Pine Street United Methodist Church is planning two services on Christmas Eve, at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at James Short Park in Loyalsock Township. Because attendance is limited, those wishing to attend should register at the church’s website, www.pinestreetumc.org.

According to Pastor James Wooster, the service will include candles, carols and the Christmas story and should be about a half hour long. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and bells to ring in Christmas.

“In every challenge or difficulty we face, I always try to say there’s an opportunity,” Wooster said.

“We always complain about how busy the holidays are, about how much there is to do, about how much we have to get done. The opportunity we have, the gift we have this year is to step away from all of that busyness and step away from all of the preparations, all of the gatherings and all of the noise that Christmas can bring with it, and rediscover a simple, quiet Christmas,” he said.

He noted that we are so used to our picture perfect Christmases, that we forget the first Christmas wasn’t picture perfect.

“It came in a world of political corruption and hunger and poverty. Even Mary and Joseph know what it means to be socially isolated from their families. Mary was far from home and Christmas came into that world,” he said. “And, Christmas reminds us that God’s not done with us yet. I might even say, the light in our darkness is not Dec. 25. The light in our darkness is Jesus.”

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