Churches grapple with smaller, virtual Christmas services

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As Christmas fast approaches, churches around town and the greater Rainy River District are continuing to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and the stark reality that as much as anyone may want it, there will still be no “normal” for the holiday season.

Much like they did earlier in the year when COVID got in the way of many Easter service plans, churches have settled into their adapted models of providing parishioners a weekly sermon and will generally continue operating in a similar fashion for their Christmas services.

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Fort Frances will be offering both a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship service next week, with the sessions each limited to the now-standard 30 percent capacity. There will be one service at 5:00 p.m. and a midnight service at 11:00 p.m. on Christmas eve, an 11:00 a.m. mass on Christmas Day.

However, the church also noted that as the holiday services are very popular, with a considerable number of people turning out to the Christmas Eve midnight mass in particular, anyone wishing to attend one of the services at the church must call 274-5233 or stop by the parish office and register in advance. Once registered, a coloured slip will be provided that corresponds to the particular service, and that slip must be provided in order to attend. No one who has not registered will be allowed into any of the services, in order to keep to COVID-19 regulations and safety guidelines.

The pre-registration also applies to services at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Couchiching, as well as to the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day services. For a complete schedule of services at both parishes throughout the Christmas and New Year’s weeks, please call or visit the parish website at

Knox United Church in Fort Frances will forego an in-person service this year, but will continue to invite their members to join in virtually. The church has announced it will have a professionally produced video made available for their Christmas Eve service, as opposed to the in-person service which usually brings in anywhere from 100-150 people, allowing families to come together safely online to celebrate together. The video will be made available on their Facebook page for viewing. The church’s Sunday, December 27 sermon will also be online only and made available for viewing.

Meanwhile in Emo, the Emo-Devlin United Churches under Rev. Frances Flook will also abstain from meeting in person in favour of a video service in order to keep families and friends isolated, but still together in spirit.

Over at the Zion Lutheran Church, Pastor Brian Keffer said the parish is currently a go for one in-person service on Christmas eve, with a possible second service to follow later that day.

“We’re going to have a service at 4:00 p.m. but we haven’t decided if we’re going to have one at 7:00 p.m.,” Keffer said.

“We decided we’re going to decide by Sunday. There will definitely be a 4 o’clock service. We’re doing all the social distancing and masks and hand sanitizing, That’s been normal for us. We’re also going to attempt to livestream it on our Facebook page.”

Keffer said he’s hoping to keep the numbers down in the church in order to observe COVID-19 regulations, so splitting the services could allow for more people in total in attendance, just not at the same time.

“We just want to make sure we don’t have more than capacity,” he said. “We’ve been averaging trying to keep people around 30 total in there.”

While churches in the district continue to make efforts to ensure that parishioners can take part in a virtual service at the very least, there are still some locations where worshippers can gather in person under COVID restrictions. However, no one wants to turn away hopefuls – or be turned away – at the door the day of Christmas, so if any church member is hoping to be able to attend a service in-person where offered, be sure to call or check-in with your office well in advance in order to reserve your spot. For a full list of churches in the area, along with the best methods for contacting them, please check your Tuesday Bulletin for the Worship page.