Local churches host outdoor Christmas Eve services


Christmas Eve at some local churches looked a little different this year.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, church officials used their creativity to ensure they could still share the real reason for the season.

The Point in Seymour, for example, is not gathering in person, so on Thursday, services were streamed on Facebook and the church’s website at 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. People could pick up a candle at the front office and take home while they participated in the candle-lighting portion of the service.

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Three other local churches — First Baptist Church in Seymour and St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and Brownstown United Methodist Church in Brownstown — had outdoor services with safety protocols in place.

Sitting in their vehicles in the church parking lot, First Baptist members heard the Christmas story from the Rev. Jeremy Myers interspersed between popular Christmas songs, starting with “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and ending with “Silent Night.”

For the closer, people turned on the battery-powered candles they received upon entering the parking lot and held them out of the windows of their vehicles as they sang along.

Myers was joined onstage by fellow staff members Mike Lyon, Nathan Parker and Aaron Bartsch. The stage was decorated with lanterns and lighted garland, and a Christmas tree with white lights and a star on top stood nearby.

With the church not being able to fit everyone in the sanctuary due to social distancing mandates, staff came up with an alternative so people could still get out of their homes to attend a Christmas Eve service.

“When we initially planned this, the hope was that it would still be like 38,” Myers said of the outdoor temperature, which was around 20 degrees Thursday night.

“We talked about canceling it if we were below a certain threshold, but we got to today, and I was like, ‘I can’t cancel one more thing for these people. We have to make it happen,’” he said. “We did everything we could to make it the best thing that we could.”

While Myers joked it lasted a chorus longer than they could handle due to the cold temperature and snow falling, they were happy to offer the service for members.

“We normally play from our iPads, and our iPads were freezing. They would only stay on for about 20 minutes, and then they would shut off,” he said. “It’s really, really different, but hopefully, it’s pretty and people get something from it.”

Seeing people flash the headlights and hearing them honk the horns on their vehicles after each song, Myers and his staff were assured people enjoyed it.

“When everybody started honking at the end, you’re like, ‘OK, this is cool,’” Myers said. “We’re a big Baptist church, and everybody is used to the pretty sanctuary, and we just can’t mimic that out here, so we were hoping that it would be appreciated.”

Parker said he could tell it was.

“Man, this was so exciting just to see so many people,” he said. “I think it well exceeded any expectations that we had. It was freezing cold, I could barely feel my fingers when I played piano, but man, just an amazing thing to be a part of. I’m so glad we were able to do it.

Pastors Merlin and Kay Pratt led two Christmas Eve services at Brownstown United Methodist Church — one at 6 p.m. and the second at 11 p.m. — on the lawn of the church to ensure the safety of all.

During the early service, about 20 people gathered to listen to Scriptures about Jesus’ birth and sing Christmas carols. Both pastors also gave brief sermons.

Those attending brought electric lanterns and battery-powered candles to “represent God’s light coming to Earth” while singing carols such as “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

Pastor Merlin Pratt said he had been planning on conducting an outdoor service since September.

“We thought ‘Let’s do something different than we’ve done before.’ Then if the virus keeps going, we already have that in motion. We don’t have to reboot,” he said.

Even though the service was outdoors, Pastor Kay Pratt said there was importance in having a safe event for the public to attend.

“We want to make sure that people in the community know that this church is still alive and well and that it has potential to grow,” she said.

This is the first year the Pratts have served Brownstown United Methodist Church, and both said they were pleased with their first Christmas Eve service here.

“It was good to do it. It was a little frantic to make sure everything works,” he said.

The Pratts were in Michigan before coming to Jackson County, but she was a member of Brownstown UMC before they moved to Michigan.

The service was livestreamed and is still on their Facebook page at facebook.com/brownstownumc. They also post their services on the Facebook page on Sundays at noon.

St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Christmas Eve outdoor service was held at the Jackson County Fairgrounds off State Road 250 just east of Brownstown.

Pastor Jeremy Yeadon conducted a similar service on Easter Sunday (April 12) because of the pandemic and the cancellation of indoor services at that time.

A decision was made earlier this year that if the COVID-19 infection spread in Jackson County reached the red level, there would be no in-person worship services at the church.

That occurred in early December, and Yeadon conducted virtual services until the county fell back into the orange risk level for COVID-19 infection more than a week ago.

“People are still afraid to go into places and church, and we wanted them to have the opportunity to at least feel like they were worshiping together,” Yeadon said after finishing a service of lessons and carols conducted between in-person services at 5:30 and 9 p.m. at the church.

Although Thursday’s service was conducted in much colder weather than the Easter Day service, Yeadon said he thought it went well.

“I couldn’t tell because it was dark,” he said. “I thought if we had over 50 cars it would be a success. I think we had over that.”

Participants in the service at the fairgrounds were each given battered-powered candles to light up the inside of their vehicle at the end of the service at the fairgrounds.

St. Peter’s services also may be found the church Facebook page at facebook.com/StPetersEvLutheranChurch.

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