NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Local churches are preparing for one of the holiest days of the year with rising COVID-19 cases on their minds.
In Downtown Norfolk, two historic churches say they’re practicing health safety protocols despite the change in services from this time last year.
“Last year, we had a limit to the number of people that could be in the space,” said Ashley Dixon, who is the worship committee chair for the Basilica of St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception. “We’ve lifted the limit and restrictions. We just ask parishioners to take proper precautions and if they’re sick, join us via livestream.”
Dixon says two services will be held on Friday: one at 7 p.m. and one at midnight.
“The Christmas Eve masses are usually very well attended as are the Easter masses. Our seven does not have as many as the midnight mass. The midnight mass has several more people in the midnight mass. Families like to come. It’s part of the Christmas tradition for many families,” she said.
Dixon says will the Diocese of Richmond, which the church belongs to, does not require masks in attendance, St. Mary’s recommends parishioners to wear masks.
“We found that most parishioners are pretty compliant to the request to wear masks. We encourage mask-wearing, not just for safety, but an act of love for our neighbors and fellow parishioners. We want to keep each other safe and make sure we’re comfortable coming together for worship,” she said.
Choir members also wear masks made for singing and hand sanitizing stations are located in the church.
Down the street at Freemason Street Baptist Church, Pastor Bob Guffey says they too are encouraging worshippers to wear masks.
“We’ve talked about the mask as a way to love your neighbor, not so much as to what I want, but what’s good for the community. We will continue to observe those procedures tomorrow night as we expect a robust blend of those who will join us here and those who will join us online,” he said
Guffey says last year, only those who participated in the service were at the church while the congregation watched through the live stream.
He says it’s been a long year and a half for many churches to learn and figure out how to work around COVID-19.
Guffey believes some of what they’ve come up with whether it’s mask-wearing or using technology will stick around to become a new normal.
“We have come to realize, there might not be a post-COVID future for some time. so, we are finding creative ways to maintain safety as well as have folks involved in ministry,” Guffey said.
Parishioners who are vaccinated are allowed to go without a mask in the church but Guffey says many have worn masks since the emergence of the Delta variant.
When it comes to masking or getting a vaccine, Guffey recalls getting the polio vaccine as a kid and understanding how great it was to be able to help.
He hopes others will also see it as a way to help keep others safe.
“I see it as using the gifts that God has given us and the respect, we could say, God has for people to say ‘I gave you the tools, now let’s figure this out,” said Guffey.
Freemason Street is also hosting a Christmas Dinner for those in need on Christmas Day at noon.
COVID is also forcing some churches, including Real Life Christian Church in Chesapeake, to switch to online-only Christmas Eve services after positive cases among staff members.