Summit churches vary Christmas approaches amid the pandemic
As a chaplain at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Karen Johns is one of a few Summit County residents who received a novel coronavirus vaccine this week.
To Johns, a member of Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church, the vaccine is a blessing. It’s the kind of thing that will help the county return to normal life, save jobs and improve current mental health and isolation struggles for many. However, in Johns’ mind that time is still a ways away — even for churches amid a traditional time of celebration.
Though she’d love to have in-person Christmas services and household gatherings this coming week, her view is — for people of faith — that the decision to hold such gatherings comes down to “the admonition that we love one another.”
“And to love people means take care of them and have their best interest at heart,” Johns said. “To take care of them first, and their needs. We decided at Lord of the Mountains we don’t want to lose anybody, and we have not so far.”
Johns said she keeps telling people “2020 is the year we did not get everything we wanted,” which includes in-person church services. Lord of the Mountains will continue with virtual livestream and remote services and celebrations for this coming Christmas week. That includes a drive-in Nativity Christmas story event transmitted to parked cars via FM radio followed by a livestreamed Christmas service on Thursday at 7 p.m.
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“We are doing all the things we can do to make people feel the sacredness of Christmas, even though it won’t be the same,” Johns said.
Rev. Calob Rundell said Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge is taking a slightly different approach. After the church’s first 100-yard parking lot broadcast service this past Sunday, Dec. 13, Father Dyer will permit 40 vehicles to listen to FM-transmitted Christmas Eve services at 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. on Thursday.
“I think most everybody at this point is choosing to play it safer,” Rundell said.
Pastor Jim Howard said the Dillon Community Church is taking a combined in-person and remote approach to Christmas. The church will livestream multiple services for those who do not wish to attend in person, and host a simultaneous in-person service on their grounds in Dillon during those Christmas Eve services.
Howard said the blended Christmas Eve approach is in line with what the church has been doing since May as they work to follow Summit County’s pandemic regulations. After beginning in-person services outdoors in May, the church moved indoors in September. He said interested churchgoers can contact the church to find out more information on how Christmas Eve services will take place. Howard said before the pandemic last year, the church was inundated with 1,300 churchgoers on Christmas Eve.
Like Johns, Howard cited “the Christian admonition to love one another and care for each other” when describing his and the church’s approach to their decision. He just interprets it differently. He said his biggest concern continues to be mental health.
Howard said mental health challenges are at an all-time high “and only getting higher.” In response, the church has “divvied up” its congregation members so all pastoral staff can contact people regularly via Zoom, phone calls and in person at their doors.
“And I have had a bunch cry when they open the door and see me because of the extreme discouragement, depression, frustration and anger,” Howard said. “We are doing our very best under the circumstances to encourage people to get them whatever help they need.”
Howard was pleased with Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in High Plains Harvest Church vs. Jared Polis, Governor of Colorado. He said the ruling was a victory for religious freedom, as the nation’s top court reversed lower court rulings that had refused to block state restrictions on places of worship.
In his view, Howard says the decision ensures churches nationally “are not discriminated against,” adding “you can’t allow Costco to have 600 people and a church limited to 25.”
Howard is critical of the government’s response to the pandemic. He says one of his greatest concerns is the pandemic’s impact of poverty — United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently said 130 million people globally are being pushed to the brink of starvation as a result of the pandemic. On a more local governmental level, Howard is “appalled” at how Summit County government has handled the response to the pandemic, which he feels has encouraged divisions in the community.
“The foundation of a healthy society is healthy relationships where we work together, not rat on each other, and this is creating much further division and hostility within our own county,” Howard said. “That is not the history of our county. This is a foundation for a bad, unhealthy community. We don’t deny there’s a serious issue with COVID-19. We’re just questioning the approach to solving it.”
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