The Alpha and the Omicron: COVID-19 Disrupts Christmas Worship Again

From London to DC, a new variant has shifted plans for big holiday services and celebrations in 2021.

“Join us for Christmas Eve!” read the homepage for the District Church in Washington, DC, as the congregation planned to gather for the holiday for the first time since 2019.

The District Church, a multiethnic, nondenominational church in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, had scheduled three in-person services for Friday. But last Sunday, lead pastor Aaron Graham announced that due to the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, Christmas Eve would be filmed and shared online instead.

“We had not planned this, but we just didn’t really know who was going to be in town [Christmas] week, and we just had a lot of people gone,” said Graham. The District Church had already made plans to briefly go virtual online for the two Sundays following Christmas to give their 20-member staff time to unwind for the Christmas and New Year season.

“With cases increasing in DC—the last two days have been higher, we just said, ‘You know what? Let’s just pivot online. We can go online and not lose momentum in the church overall.’ The pandemic taught us that.”

Fellow church leaders, especially in major cities where coronavirus cases are taking off, have made similar announcements, while others are weighing the risks as public health officials project record-high cases levels coinciding with holiday travel and gatherings.

This isn’t the scenario pastors expected. Months ago, nearly all US churches had finally returned to in-person worship, and countries had lifted church lockdowns. Even as Advent began just four weeks back, the rapid availability of COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots made it seem like this Christmas would be different than last year and churches would be able …

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