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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    Keeping Christmas traditions alive in UNY

    December 14, 2020 / By UNY Communications / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    COVID-19 has been a challenging time for all churches. What are Upper New York churches doing to preserve the Christmas spirit, to keep their traditions of celebrating Christ’s birth alive?!

    Here are some unique ways that UNY churches, large and small, are keeping their Christmas traditions alive amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Asbury First UMC
    Avon First UMC
    Calvary First UMC
    East Greenbush UMC
    East Randolph UMC
    Newtonville UMC
    Fairport UMC
    Apple Valley UMC
    Christ Church UMC
    Fulton UMC
    Hurlbut Memorial UMC
    Aldersgate UMC Greece
    Bridgeport UMC
    Trinity UMC-Grand Island


    Asbury First UMC
    By Holly Temming, Director of Children’s Music/Children’s Ministry Assistant

    Asbury First United Methodist Church is a warm, open faith community of 2,300 people in the city of Rochester, NY. The church’s normal Christmas Season is vibrant and packed full of traditions such as decorating the sanctuary and campus, Cocoa and Carols Around the Tree, Advent Labyrinth accompanied by live harp, Christmas Dinner served to those in need and weekly Advent Taize services to name a few. But one of the most beloved traditions at Asbury First is a children’s Christmas pageant that takes place during one of their five Christmas Eve services and is attended by approximately 1,000 people. How could they begin to replace a service full of candlelight and carols, handbell choir and organ, angels skipping down the aisle, wisemen following a moving star and Mary  and Joseph traveling with live donkey down a long cathedral aisle? In late November, as their city entered an orange zone due to COVID, gatherings of more than 10 were prohibited and it was quite clear Christmas Eve services would not be happening this year. But in spite of restrictions there had to be a way to let the children tell the Christmas story in a safe way.

    So, on a cold brisk day in late November about 50 eager little children from Asbury First gathered in small, staggered groups at two local farms to re-enact the Christmas story with a film crew capturing each moment. In full costumes with coordinated masks the shepherds wandered the fields, the herald angels sang atop a hill and the wisemen traveled with alpaca from afar to present gifts before the blessed family in a manger surrounded by goats and donkeys. Dressing up to tell the story of Christ’s birth is one of the greatest joys for children at Asbury First and to have it happen in a real manger this year instead of a sanctuary brought the story to life in a thrilling way. Paula Dugan, Director of Children’s Ministry, says “I’m afraid the children will want to do this every year!” Harper Temming, a 10-year old who played one of the Wiseman, had not participated in the pageant in years because he’s shy but had no hesitation participating this year because he said “there’s no live audience and I get to play with farm animals!” The video will be released for online viewing at 4:00 pm on Christmas Eve and can be accessed at www.asburyfirst.org.


    Avon First UMC
    By Pastor Mia Richardson

    Albeit this year has been challenging, we at The Avon United Methodist Church still have good News! From the onset of Covid-19, we remain intentional about the mission of the Church. We discern that Worship's paradigm has shifted, so we have chosen to flow with the Holy Spirit and think outside the box to keep our traditions alive!

    Our worship team will be prerecording for the very first time our Christmas Eve Service for a virtual experience. Our affiliate Lay Servant Rachel Giso has created an outdoor weekly Advent Vigil service, which takes place in the Church's back parking lot. The service consists of lighting the candles, hearing an inspiring message, singing Christmas carols, and prayer. We offer both in-person and online participation for the weekly vigils, and they are well attended.

    We will also gather online for a virtual Christmas party. This is a ZOOM gathering for holiday trivia, prizes, conversation, music, and fun. Our Heart of Ruth, Women's Ministry and the congregation are still donating gifts to young families and their children, collecting food for the food pantry, delivering poinsettias to the sick and shut-in, and purchasing holiday care packages for the local nursing home!

    We are not only preserving our traditions, but we are experiencing and expanding them in a new and safe way.

    I commend this congregation for their commitment and tenacity. It's a small fellowship with older members, but they continue to make a big difference in the community.


    Calvary First UMC
    By Rita Pickett

    Calvary UMC Latham has a tradition of a hosting a live nativity We usually have a skit in the sanctuary to remind people of the meaning of Christmas and then escort groups to an outdoor living nativity, featuring a host of characters and animals. This year, the darkness did not overcome the light.  We have planned for a drive-in nativity, which will be radio broadcast to cars. We will feature socially distanced characters, including shepherds for parking, an angel to greet, Joseph and Mary, and some animals. Who knows, maybe a wise man will also appear?  It took the creativity of many and the leadership of our Pastor, Drew Sperry to accomplish this.


    East Greenbush UMC

    Christmas is a time of many church traditions, and this year is no different.  The Blue Christmas Tree service wasn’t held, but the blue Christmas tree is in the sanctuary with the names of people to be remembered, people for whom Christmas can be so very sad. The Sunday school and youth of the church are holding a live drive-by nativity with recorded music and luminaries on the afternoon of the 24th of December.  The live streamed Christmas Eve candle-light service will occur with music, scripture, love, and joy. 

    Cookies and Carols was also a staple for the church community, a time to gather to sing carols, munch on cookies, hear stories of Christmas and listen to great music.  This year, with herculean effort, a two-hour program of music, poetry, and readings will be posted on Facebook on Dec. 20 at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Each contribution was recorded separately and edited together to create a program for all to hear in their homes while munching cookies. The program will be available throughout the holiday season.


    East Randolph UMC
    By Rev. Charles Smith II

    East Randolph UMC performed their live nativity for people to drive by three different evenings during the Advent season. There were stations with appropriate readings and Christmas carols from our worship music team, broadcast on FM radio for all to enjoy. The last presentation is December, 19  from 7-8 p.m.


    Newtonville UMC

    Newtonville UMC is doing an Advent study of independent films based on the lyrics of the Mark Miller song “I Believe” about the light even when the sun isn't shining, followed by Zoom discussion. There will be an audio of the choir singing Christmas carols for the service. They are keeping the traditions of memorial ornaments and lights on the tree, wreaths on the walls, and the Angel Tree adoption of a family's Christmas gifts, and lovely memorial poinsettias on the altar.


    Fairport UMC
    By Richelle Goff, pastor

    At Fairport UMC held three outdoor caroling events. Several cars showed up at each event up. Cars were parked in the parking lot and the organist played the piano and sang, which was broadcast to 91.1 FM, so everyone could sing along in their cars. Song books were handed out as cars drove in, or they could download the songs on their phones.


    Apple Valley UMC
    By Pastor Penny Hart

    We are a small rural church and while things are different, masks, temps., sign-ins, our attendance is about 1/3 or less, we are still celebrating Advent and Christmas. Advent candles are lit, the person or family of the week is requested to sit in the front so there is no walking back & forth down the aisle. Christmas hymns are played and sang by the organist and me. Poinsettias have been purchased by the person who takes care of the altar. 

    Services are live-streamed on Facebook at the same time from the church and viewers have been given a tour via my laptop so they can see the altar, Nativity scene, and those in attendance, who waved to those online. 


    Christ Church UMC
    By Pastor Bob Kolvik-Campbell

    For the past 23 years, Christ Church United Methodist in Sherrill, New York, has provided the gift of an outdoor Living Nativity for the community and region.  Animals were loaned, the city blocked off streets, bleachers were set up and 300-500 people witnessed the story of the birth of Jesus in Mid-Advent.

    The year 2020 brought many challenges and in September, as the Church Council considered these, many ideas were considered:  people standing, socially distanced; some type of drive-in event; a limitation on the numbers present.

    Then as COVID -19 numbers increased throughout the area, and the City of Sherrill limited the number people who could gather to 25, new plans emerged.  Animals were not borrowed.  The stable was assembled, not by a group of 10, but by 5 who saw it as a visual way to bring hope to the community, that it was Living Nativity time.

    Based on an idea presented by a church member, the familiar soundtrack was recorded by the Planck Family, the narration, based on the 2003 script was recorded by Marcia Warham and Doug Tudman,  and pictures from the years 2007 and 2014-2019 were assembled.  The role of Mary, played usually by a High School Senior girl who had been part of the pageant, was recruited to be Marissa Terrell.

    Two young adults, Grace Barratini and Anna Kolvik-Campbell, set about blending soundtrack and narration.  The two directors gathered with Marissa and Olivia Furman, her cousin, to take pictures at the assembled stable to bring in pictures of Marissa as Mary.  Then the process of telling the Nativity Story through pictures began.  After a number of rough edits, the story was told.  The story was upload as a video to YouTube for viewing.

    The welcoming hospitality of Christ Church is typically expressed at the Nativity with Hot Cocoa and Cookies immediately following the event.  That is not to be denied this year either.  UMW volunteers filled 300 bags with two cookies, a packet of hot cocoa, and a card with the YouTube link to view the Nativity.  These then were distributed to the entire community.

    It is not the Living Nativity as it had been presented over the last 23 years, but the story of the birth of Christ was shared.  And we hope for a great 25th presentation of the Living Nativity in December, 2021.

    The Living Nativity Retrospective can be found here:  https://youtu.be/NKu_ctbJ5cw


    Fulton UMC
    By Carolyn Mosier

    Thankfully, our Pastor uses his talent for choreography and pulls together the various aspects of worship while providing a message of faith and hope during these challenging days. He is hoping to present a Christmas Eve service that can be viewed at home or in person.  Like our Thanksgiving service, that was videotaped in advance, many people are invited to join in the filming of a simple Christmas pageant and candlelight service.  The “live” part of the evening will be limited, with most of the service projected on the “big screen” or viewed on a home screen.

    As we face the New Year, the unusual seems to have become familiar. It is our hope that the Congregation of FFUMC will emerge from this Coronavirus Pandemic stronger in our faith and more united in loving service to one another and our community.


    Hurlbut Memorial UMC
    By Rev. Carmen Perry

    We held our 24 hour Advent prayer vigil. People were invited to pray in the sanctuary (by themself) or at home as they felt safe and comfortable. We also invited family or small groups of people (less than 10, wearing masks) to come in throughout the week prior to Advent to decorate our sanctuary.


    Aldersgate UMC Greece
    By Sharon Bartter

    The children still did the first Sunday of Advent "Hanging of the Greens" but came up separately and read their part and hung their ornament. They didn't all stand together waiting. We will have 2 services but singing "together" will be prerecorded. There will be some kind of pageant. I'm interested to see how they handle it. We do have several of sets of kids who are siblings, meaning they could stand and "act" together. Our kids are really being good about keeping masks on! I'm proud of our kids and of my church's keeping to the guidelines!


    Bridgeport UMC
    By Rev. Diane DeLuzio

    This is a new tradition born out of the COVID restrictions to gather safely in person. Each week we are making a short video showing that nothing can keep us from the real Spirit of Christmas - hope in Christ Jesus. The Bridgeport church has traditionally hosted a community tree lighting in conjunction with the town of Sullivan Parks and Recreation Department with hundreds in attendance. The church made and served cookies and hot chocolate and gave out Advent calendars. There was singing and celebration of community. This year we tried to bring the spirit of that tradition out into the community. Click here and here to watch two videos created by Bridgeport UMC. The first shows members of the congregation tying bows of hope on a tree outside the church and some musical performances. The second video shows how one member of the church has the brightest lights in Bridgeport.


    Trinity UMC-Grand Island
    By Rev. Kevin Slough

    Trinity UMC-Grand Island continues to offer a drive-in worship broadcasted through an FM Transmitter all winter long. We noticed more people willing to continue drive-in worship versus in person worship with COVID cases increasing in Erie County. Our response was to enclose the hay wagon we used as a chancel area along with adding sliding glass doors and heat. To celebrate Advent and Christmas, we added lights, Christmas trees, and other Advent decor. Trinity offers drive-in worship each Sunday at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. along with recorded/live worship available on our web-site http://www.trinitygrandisland.org 


    With more than 144,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 91 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."