The coronavirus pandemic may stifle the more elaborate Christmas Eve service held annually by First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Wauseon, but Pastor Michael Doerr believes there is also beauty in spiritual simplicity.
On Dec. 24 he will lead the church’s inaugural attempt at an outdoor evening service to be shared with the entire community. Scheduled for 7 p.m. in South Park off of South Fulton Street, in a space between the city’s holiday star decoration and the park’s gazebo, the casual worship event will be held despite rainy or snowy skies.
Although the program’s details are still being finalized, Pastor Doerr has promised simple worship and music to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Carols will be sung, guitar music will waft, a soloist may perform, the Christmas story will be told, prayers will be lifted, candlelight may be present, and there will a brief reflection on the meaning of the holiday.
It’s a welcomed opportunity to share fellowship with city residents of all religious backgrounds, Pastor Doerr said.
“It’s going to be very familiar,” he said of the content. “It will be accessible to anyone, and not complicated, really.”
The approximately 30-minute service will require masks and social distancing. Pastor Doerr said people attending the church’s indoor services have been respectful of those mandates, and he is confident they will act accordingly at the outdoor event.
This stripped-down, simplified Christmas Eve service is a new, creative step for First Christian Church, a way to bring the message of Christmas during a pandemic that has left worshipping together difficult, he said. The church, located at 129 E. Elm St., was closed by COVID-19 between March and July, then watched its service attendance dwindle from the usual 100 congregants to about 45 per service during the pandemic.
A recorded online worship service has since been introduced on the church’s YouTube channel, and attracts an average of 75 viewers each week. It’s uploaded at 10 a.m. each Sunday; a link on the church Facebook page can direct participants.
First Christian Church closed again Nov. 19, and planned to reopen with the cancellation of Fulton County’s red COVID status.
Pastor Doerr said the outdoor service will remain basic, without an extensive liturgy. “It really is just an opportunity to be together and acknowledge and observe the celebration of the birth of Jesus,” he said. “Because of it being in the park, it’s going to have a simpler feel to it.”
He added, “Trying to be creative during COVID and offer something that is uplifting and encouraging to the community is important. Just having the opportunity to do this… Christmas seems like the right time – trying to keep the Christmas spirit. It keeps our minds on what Christmas is about, even during COVID. Wanting to be able to offer something special to our community is important to us.”
And if the service proves successful, it could become an annual event, Pastor Doerr said.
“I would love to. If this works out, and it’s something that connects with people, it’s certainly something that we would think very strongly about continuing,” the pastor said. “I’m sure that we would try to build on the creativity of it.”
This year, however, “I’ll be happy just to see that there are people there worshipping with me,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.