COVID-shmovid! It would take a whole lot more than a pandemic to dampen the 2020 Christmas spirit at the St. Stephen’s church plant in Maple, which has been open for weekly services since Advent, 2016.
Logistically, the worship space within the quaint, albeit tiny, 125-year-old building was deemed unsuitable for any in-person worship back in September, so the doors remained bolted, leaving only a Zoom option for weekly devotion and fellowship.
But, in November, a small team of creative and energetic “elves” was assembled – bound and determined to spread as much good Christian cheer, inside and outside, as was humanly possible, given COVID-19 circumstances.
Physically distanced (and appropriately masked!), they set to decorating every nook and cranny of the silent and locked church sanctuary, first in Advent blue and then again for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in brilliant reds. They also decorated the “Lady Chapel,” the welcoming interim backdrop for the weekly online livestream, which was set up in the cozy front parlor of the rectory next door to the church.
The spirit of the season was captured in photographs of familiar spots inside the beloved sanctuary – including the bowed leaded glass windows in the entranceway, weathered window-sills and the well-worn manger scene, lovingly arranged on burlap in front of the altar. These still images were then integrated into online Sunday services, shown during hymns and periods of reflection, to help everyone place themselves virtually in its enchanting midst and to spark joyous recollections of holidays past.
When the full-blown re-enactment of the annual pageant wasn’t possible on Christmas Eve, Karen Shea, the Pastor of Outreach, resorted to the next best thing, directing a group of St. Stephen’s youth to verbally recreate the story of Jesus’ birth, while live on camera and in full costume.
Committed to serve the community with open hearts and minds, St. Stephen’s outreach ministry has continued 24/7 since the beginning of the pandemic – a reminder to neighbours of a vibrant and ongoing presence. That, too, was given more than a bit of festive attention! The ever-popular outdoor freestanding food pantry lent itself perfectly to be transformed into a whimsical red-nosed Rudolph, the community dresser (containing suitable winter clothing for all ages) was garlanded and two festive mitten trees were added to the mix!
The piece de resistance? A simple, serene wooden creche scene, designed and erected on the church’s front lawn by Tieg Dawe, sexton and woodworker extraordinaire – a gentle reminder of the hope that Christ’s birth brought to a broken world.