Some churches encourage attendance, others go virtual for holiday services

Published: Dec. 24, 2021 at 5:24 PM EST
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DANIEL ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - As one of the holiest days of the year quickly approaches, churches in the Holy City are taking different approaches to holiday celebrations.

This will be the second year traditional Christmas and New Year services have been disrupted by the coronavirus, but while some pastors are taking extreme precautions others are leaving safety up to the individual.

“We are hopeful that this year we will have a very large crowd even though the omicron variant is nearby,” Fr. Gregory West said. “People have taken precautions and they’re doing the right things. We are quite hopeful we are going to have a wonderful celebration. "

West is a priest at Saint Clare of Assisi Catholic Church on Daniel Island. He says last year’s capacity was limited and masks were required, but this year they are back to full capacity with masks and social distancing optional. He says the COVID-19 vaccines have been a big part of their reopening efforts.

“Studies have shown that those who are fully vaccinated and have the booster are less likely to either contract the omicron variant or suffer greatly from it,” West said. “The wise person will certainly get the vaccination and the booster and if anyone chooses not to be vaccinated, they just have to be very careful. Wear a mask and consider distancing themselves from the crowd for the time being.”

Still, one major change made because of covid will continue to be in place for the foreseeable future. The shared cup used for Communion will not be used.

West says while they’re happy to receive folks in person, they will stream their Christmas Eve mass for those who cannot attend for whatever reason.

Conversely, the Rev. Isaac Holt at Royal Baptist in North Charleston says his church normally has about 2,000 people attend services a week, but since the pandemic started they’ve limited in-person attendance. He expects they will have about 150 people attend this weekend.

“We call it a ‘hybrid Hallelujah,’” Holt said. “We are not even really encouraging the crowd. At about the middle of the year when things looked like they were getting better we began encouraging people. . . but then the new variants came out.”

Holt says they have offered streaming service so the congregation can still attend church from the safety of their homes, which has had its benefits.

“One thing that has developed since last is that we have got really good at streaming and people are able to give more online,” Holt said. “We have increased the number of people watching us because our online numbers are like 8,000. We have people all over the country who have written us letters and actually joined our congregation.”

Normally, Watch Night – a celebration and remembrance of the Emancipation Proclamation on Dec. 31 – is the biggest night of the year for Royal Baptist. Holt says this year it’s going to be much more toned down with a virtual celebration over Zoom.

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