During a normal holiday season, Josiah McCruiston would be preparing for Christmas Eve service at Witherspoon Presbyterian Church. A minister since 2018, McCruiston looks forward to the special service every year, particularly the candle lighting ceremony at its conclusion.
But this holiday season — much like the rest of the year — has been far from normal. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the church has been meeting virtually. To keep congregants safe, Witherspoon’s Christmas Eve service will be streamed online, as well. In place of a room full of congregants holding lit candles, church leaders will have a quiet lighting of an Advent wreath.
“This year will be a different worship experience for Christmas Eve,” McCruiston, 27, said.
However different, McCruiston said working in the church, alongside senior pastor Rev. Dr. Winterbourne Harrison-Jones, in the midst of a pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. In an unprecedented holiday season with many families apart for Christmas, McCruiston said his church has been answering the call to help those in need, including frontline health care workers from around the country.
“We’ve been doing daily call sessions and weekly points of interaction with our members,” McCruiston said. “The goal has been to make sure that they know that we are here and are thinking about them. It’s a blessing to hear our pastor bless us with a word of encouragement.”
Ally Johnson, a graduate student at DePaul University, has faced many changes as a result of the coronavirus. Along with the cancellation of her undergraduate graduation from Ball State University in May, the 23-year-old has dealt with some anxiety as a result of the pandemic.
Like McCruiston, Johnson typically attends a church service on the Sunday before Christmas to hear a sermon on the birth of Christ and watch a children’s performance.
Since COVID-19 has forced many churches, including Johnson’s home church of My Father’s House Church of God in Christ, to offer virtual-only services, Johnson has felt some disconnect from the church.
“I loved that we were able to continue to worship in this virtual environment,” Johnson said. “But it didn’t really feel the same. Easter Sunday was me in my room watching service on my phone. Nevertheless, in all of this my relationship to God has grown stronger, I think, because I have needed to lean on him in these times of trouble.”
Answering calls and helping congregants through these difficult times, McCruiston understands the need for churches to continue being a refuge for those struggling. He’s heard from people worried about their friends and family, and generally, just worried about what the future may bring. For McCruiston, though, the Christmas season is a time to reflect on Scripture and find the silver lining in 2020.
“The gift that God is pointing us to this year is that Jesus came to the world during a pandemic to give us hope, peace, love and joy,” McCruiston said. “To those who are finding yourself unsure or lost, this is your opportunity to look up and see the star leading you to the manger to find the light. Depression is here, yes, but so is joy and it’s for those who seek the child born of man who experiences your depression with you. You aren’t alone in this and you don’t have to allow the current situation to determine your destination.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.