The headline in a newspaper (not this one) screamed in block caps, “Drastic Action to Halt Epidemic: Schools and Theaters Closed and Public Gatherings Prohibited.” The year was 1918, and that Christmas Day was grim by any standard. There was an eventual total of some 675,000 deaths from the pandemic flu.
But this Christmas Day, in spite of our losses, we also have hopes and options that those almost a century before us lacked. We turn now to our informal panel of pastors. One of whom has been preaching pre-Christmas sermons from under a spreading oak tree.
That would be the Rev. Jerry B. Lee Jr. of Texas City’s Greater Bell Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
“Due to the COVID pandemic, we were first forced to hold our church virtually via YouTube,” he told Our Faith. “We then moved our Sunday morning service to the property across the street from where the original church stood, meeting under that beautiful and graceful tree.”
All local congregations have had to face the consequences of COVID-19, but for Bell Zion, the pandemic comes atop another, earlier catastrophe.
“A fire destroyed our church building, which was a beacon of the community as well as a historical landmark, which had stood since 1885,” Lee said. “That was on Sept. 13, 2019, but that didn’t stop us from worshiping God on Sunday mornings.”
The church is praying it will be gathered in a new campus next year and welcoming donations for that campaign. Lee remains optimistic in the face of dual tragedies though.
“Please don’t miss Christmas this year by being too busy to celebrate,” he added.
A few miles away, the Rev. Tim Franklin leads The Connection, a Foursquare church and coffee shop combo. He shared his thoughts for this Christmas Day 2020.
“On that first Christmas, so many years ago, Mary and Joseph experienced stress, turmoil and confusion,” Franklin said. “Any ideas and plans they may have had for this season of their lives were radically changed by circumstances beyond their control.
“Our church, like many others, has found ourselves in our own season of uncertainty and transformation,” he said. “Many of our plans and dreams for the year have crashed and burned. While it would be easy to declare this a season of failure and to write it off, there has been much to learn and to celebrate.”
Franklin’s congregation turned to online media and discovered that it not only served to reach Texas City but picked up viewers from much further away.
“Our church has discovered Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube and are using them to not only reach those we’re accustomed to reaching, but it has effectively opened the doors of our church to the world,” Franklin said.
“Where we once reached people within Galveston County, we now reach the nations,” he addd. “Just as Christ brought promise into the midst of difficult circumstances that first Christmas, our church has discovered that COVID-19 has brought a future we never considered to be possible.”
A bit to the north of Franklin, the Rev. David Bridges of Friendswood Friends Church said not to be mesmerized by the flash and dazzle but to look deeper today.
“We are usually impressed with big stuff,” Bridges said. “Big buildings grab our attention. We are fascinated with big businesses and big cities. And, if something is big, we usually think, it’s good. But when God came to Earth in the person of Jesus, God came in a very small way — as a baby. The way God came to us in Jesus shows us what the God-blessed life looks like — vulnerable, humble and in solidarity with all humanity.
“The way God came to us in Jesus also shows us that we can be a part of Christ’s Advent in the lives of others,” he said. “So pursue a God-blessed life in vulnerable, humble and small ways. And be a conduit of the love, joy and hope of Christ toward others during this season.”
We’ll give the last word this week to the Rev. Jude Ekenedilichukwu Ezuma, who leads all the churches of the Holy Family Parish, which covers Galveston and Bolivar.
“The Christmas message is even more relevant today when so many people feel disoriented, isolated and abandoned. Our God is a Loving Father who sends his only begotten son to assume our human nature in all things but sin, so as to bring salvation to us,” he said. “It is a strong reminder that our God will never abandon us; that God is truly with us; and that as long as we place our faith in him, we will experience the salvation that he brings to all people through Christ the Redeemer.”
Next week in Our Faith: What are some general, updated guidelines for congregations continuing to safely face COVID-19 in 2021? We’ll ask about everything from coffee to Communion to nurseries and vaccinations.