Area churches relieved lockdown won't pre-empt Christmas services

·2 min read

Officials at some London-area churches are relieved Christmas services won’t be cancelled by the provincewide Boxing Day lockdown.

“It’s a huge relief, right across the board,” said Barry Slauenwhite, executive director of the Christian Churches Network of London. “The stress level is way lower after we found out (the lockdown) was going to be after Christmas.”

Initial reports the lockdown would start Christmas Eve caused concern for churches, which would have scrapped any services planned that evening.

Slauenwhite, whose organization works with about 240 area churches, said many were “scrambling to try to come up with a worst-case scenario” if Christmas services were axed.

COVID-19 safety precautions still must be followed as London remains in the red (control) zone of Ontario’s restriction framework. Indoor religious services are capped at 30 per cent of capacity, with masks and physical distancing required.

Slauenwhite said most churches are offering multiple Christmas Eve services to accommodate more congregants.

After Boxing Day, switching to digital services amid the lockdown should be easier this time around, he said, as most went that route during the first lockdown.

A similar plan is being adopted by the Diocese of London, comprised of some 145 Catholic parishes throughout Southwestern Ontario.

“We’re very grateful and relieved we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas mass in areas not already in lockdown,” said Matthew Clarke, a diocese spokesperson, adding masses will start earlier on Christmas Eve and churches will offer extra services Christmas Day.

Under the lockdown, religious services will be capped at 10 people indoors.

Clarke said the closing for the next four weeks will be “heartbreaking for the people of the diocese,” but many churches already have digital alternatives in place.

But despite it being allowed, at least one area church won’t be open for Christmas Eve services.

The Metropolitan United Church in downtown London remains closed after opting to suspend in-person services in November when the London region moved into the orange (resrtrict) level of restrictions.

“Not everyone was happy about it, but everyone agreed it was the right thing to do,” Rev. Jeff Crittenden said.

His church will broadcast its Christmas Eve service over the radio. Crittenden said he’s prepared an interactive service during which listeners will light candles, write cards and head to their porches to sing Silent Night.

“It all came out of the creativity from COVID,” he said. “We’re not going to be open, but we’re offering something of hope.”

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press