Despite pandemic, faith communities continue holiday spirit through limited gatherings, virtual worship

ST. GEORGE — With the pandemic carrying into the holidays and still putting a damper on gatherings large and small, the St. George area’s faith communities continue to offer believers comfort and support with online worship services, video calls and in-person where possible.

Rabbi Mendy Cohen of the Chabad Jewish Center of St. George speaking during a virtual menorah lightning held in public and over Zoom for the Hanukkah holiday. St. George, Utah, Dec. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Chabad Jewish Center of St. George, St. George News

As for holiday services, some groups offer online services only while others will allow small gatherings at their respective houses of worship. Other groups will offer both online and in-person holiday services.

It’s not all that dissimilar to what area faiths have adapted to as St. George News reported in April. However, the big difference between now and then is that churches and other houses of worship have been able to reopen, albeit to various degrees.

Recently, the Chabad Jewish Center of St. George held a public menorah lighting for Hanukkah at the Town Square Park that was lightly attended in person, yet also streamed online for viewers with a mix of additional presentations from members of the Jewish community.

During the lighting ceremony held Dec. 13, Rabbi Mendy Cohen said around 2,600 people were viewing the event over various streaming platforms.

“Instead of having something we’re not celebrating (due to the pandemic), we’re celebrating 10 times more.” Cohen said.

In addition to the virtual menorah lightning, the Chabad Jewish Center has provided what Cohen called “Shabbat at Home” kits for individuals and families. As a means to help area Jews feel connected, the Chabad Center also brought in rabbinical students who have been able to spend time with them, as well as help pass out the Shabbat and Hanukkah home kits.

Like other faith groups, the Chabad Jewish Center has adapted to holding meetings and classes online via Zoom.

“It can be hard adapting, but we’re really keeping the spark alive,” Cohan said. “Even in hard times, there’s hope and prayer and life.”

Rabbi Helene Ainbender of Beit Chaverim Jewish community, speaks at the 2019 Prayer Over the City event at the St. George Tabernacle, St. George, Utah, Jan. 1, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

More often than not, people who are unable to connect in person have been able to do so over Zoom worship services, both Rabbi Helene Ainbender and Pastor Jimi Kestin noted. It has also resulted in the reach of their respective faith groups drawing online attendees from outside of St. George.

Ainbender, of the head of the Beit Chaverim, Jewish Congregation of Greater Zion, and president of the St. George Interfaith Council, said she’s seen new people appear for Shabbat services and learned they are usually family or friends of local congregants.

“It’s their way of connecting and being with their families on the sabbath when we’re miles apart, or we would be right around the corner and can’t be near anybody because of COVID-19,” Ainbender said.

Online Shabbat services also used to be held once a month. Now, they’re held each week, she said.

Still, Ainbender said she felt a measure of in person contact was needed and arranged a small, brief gathering by Fire Lake in Ivins where those who gathered shared in prayers, songs and exchanging gifts.

“I felt it was important not only to share the holiday, but they needed the human spirit to be lifted up and to be together with their brethren,” she said. “That was very important.”

Pastor Jimi Kestin of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship shares a sermon with the congregation in person and online online over a live feed shared over Facebook. St. George, Utah December, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, St. George News

Kestin, head pastor at Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, said his church began to live stream Sunday services and a Wednesday Bible study over Facebook since the pandemic took hold. It was seen as a way those who chose to stay home or were considered most at risk for contracting the virus could stay connected with their church family.

People who haven’t been able to interact through the church have been able to do so though the comment sections of the video feeds, Kestin said, adding the online services have also “expanded our reach across the nation and around the world.”

In addition to regular, local congregants, streamed services from Solomon’s Porch are joined by viewers from across the county, as well as in parts of the United Kingdom, Australia and South America, Kestin said.

“We’re reaching about 200-300 people a week and that number seems to be growing,” he said.

Unlike other places of worship that initially shut down during the early days of the pandemic, Kestin chose to keep Solomon’s Porch open. The decision grew out of a commitment to keep the church’s Friday pantry and Sunday Feast open to the public, both of which help supply meals to the homeless and those in need.

“I figured if we did that, we’re going to hold service,” he said. “We are probably one of the few (churches) that never shut down.”

Even when Kestin recently tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined at home, Solomon’s Porch remained open as he led worship services over Zoom from his home office.

For those that chose to attend church in person, there is ample space to be physicaly distanced from others, Kestin said, adding that the church also will not refuse entry to those who choose not to wear a mask.

Ainbender, Kestin and the Chabad Jewish Center also reach out to members of their faith communities who are unable to leave their homes at this time and arrange for volunteers to aid these individuals and families as needed.

Area Christmas Eve services

Note: The following features a handful of the churches offering Christmas Eve services either virtually or in person or both, and is not a compressive list of the church and faith communities within the St. George area. Churches and faith groups that wish to have their holiday service information added to this list can send their information to [email protected].

Pastor Jimi Kestin Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship heads the church’s Wednesday Bible study over Zoom, St. George, Utah, Dec. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, St. George News

Solomon’s Porch will offer an in person Christmas Eve service at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 24, that will run for about an hour. As there will be music played during the service that may be subject to licensing fees if streamed online, Kestin said the Christmas Eve service will not be streamed over Facebook.

Solomon’s Porch is located 1495 S. Blackridge Drive Suite A240 in St. George and can be reached at 435-669-8153. Regular worship and Bible study services can be viewed over Facebook.

In addition to Solomon’s Porch, the Saint George Catholic Church will be holding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses. Christmas Eve masses will be held at 5 p.m. in English and 7 p.m. in Spanish. Individuals wishing to attend either mass must register in advance with the parish office 435-673-2604.

A midnight mass will also be held Dec. 24, followed by Christmas Day masses at 9 a.m. in English and 11 a.m in Spanish.

“Our church nave is set up in a manner of ‘safe distancing’ and additional/overflow attendance can be accommodated in our newly-renovated Father Kuzy Social Hall with like arrangements for ‘safe distancing’. Masks are required.” Carole Drake, a pastoral assistant at the church, told St. George News in an email.

“Once we could reopen our church and begin the usual schedule of Masses, our parishioners began returning,” Drake wrote. “Some are still hesitant, and thus, our streaming of daily Masses and a weekend Mass have continued for those who are uncomfortable among a large number of people.”

From a worship service held at the Saint George Catholic Church that was live-streamed over YouTube. Many community faith groups have had to adapt to how they hold worship services and observe religious holidays due to COVID-19, and often choose to hold meetings over Zoom or live-stream them over YouTube and other online platforms, St. George, Utah December, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Saint George Catholic Church, St. George News

The Saint George Catholic Church is located at 259 W. 200 North in St. George and can be reached at 435-673-2604. Worship services can be viewed online via YouTube.

Grace Episcopal Church in St. George will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 8 p.m., Dec. 24, according to the church’s calendar. However, Rev. Tom Fiske confirmed the church is not holding in person gatherings due to the pandemic.

Services are offered over Zoom for the congregation and later posted to the church’s Facebook page.

Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church is also closed to in person services at this time, yet offers recordings of worship services posted on its website. According to the church calendar, a Christmas Eve service will be held over Zoom.

The Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church has held in-person services with a limit of 30 seats and requires masks, according to the church website. On Christmas Eve, there will be caroling and a candle lighting in the church’s courtyard at 5 p.m. This will be followed with the viewing of a pre-recorded worship service posted to the website and YouTube.

The church is located at 920 W. Tonaquint Drive in St. George, and can be reached at 435-627-8638.

The Westside Baptist Church will be live-streaming a Christmas Eve Service over YouTube at 6 p.m. In-person attendance appears possible, though potential attendees may want to call the church for details at 435-656-9055. Additional information can be found on the church’s website.

L-R: St. George Mayor Jon Pike lights the menorah while Rabbi Mandy Cohen watches nearby. The menorah lighting was a part of a virtual Hanukkah celebration held over Zoom, St. George, Utah, Dec. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Chabad Jewish Center of St. George, St. George News

The church is located at 2299 W. 2000 North in St. George.

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church will be holding a Christmas Eve Service at 7:30 p.m., according to the church’s website.

The church is located at 176 Count Fleet Rd. in St. George and can be reached at 435-628-9740. for additional details.

New Promise Lutheran Church will be holding two candlelight Christmas Eve Services, one at 5 p.m. followed by the second service at 8 p.m. Both offer in-person attendance with online streaming also offered during the 5 p.m. service via YouTube where the church also posts recordings of its weekly services.

In-person attendance to weekly worship services is available, though offered seating is limited, according to the church website. Services are at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. each Sunday and live-streamed over YouTube as well.

The church is located at 244 S. Valley View Drive. in St. George, and can be reached at 435-628-9740.

Calvary Chapel Hurricane Valley will be holding an in person Christmas Eve service at 6 p.m., Dec. 24. This will include an hour of family caroling followed by a brief Christmas devotional.

The church is located at the Hurricane Fine Arts Center, 92 W, 100 South in Hurricane, and reached at 435-635-9313 or [email protected].

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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