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Advent and Christmas Activities in a time of Covid

Our autumn webinar series brought together a set of wonderful speakers from many different perspectives in the Church. They shared their thoughts on our current situation, and gave us inspiration for possible ways forward. You can watch the whole series here, but here are some of the ideas they shared:

Week 1: Bishop David – The Church as new reality

Week 2: Brenden Thompson – Just try it

Week 3: Francis Davis – Find out where the needs are

Week 4: Hannah Vaughan Spruce – Plan something excellent you can invite your friends to

Week 5: Fleur Dorrell – Lamenting is also part of the Christian life

Week 6: Veronica and Alex – Accompaniment encourages families to walk with each other in faith

Week 7: David Wells – Go and seek joy, don’t wait for it to come to you

Taking some of these principles, we applied them to our communities specifically for Advent and Christmas. Who were we missing, and what could we do to reach them?

Some of the key groups we wanted to reach included:

  • Families
  • Those who are house-bound or shielding
  • Those who do not have access to the internet
  • Those who have been bereaved or have lost their jobs
  • Those who have not come back to Mass
  • Seekers – those who have accessed our online services, and would like to know more.

Ideas from the workshop

On 7th November we held a workshop to explore this further.

Initial Ideas

We explored some ideas from Holy Family Parish, Langley, including using Fr Denis McBride’s wonderful “Stations of the Infancy”, a set of 14 reflections with scripture, prayer and a piece of art.  Holy Family are planning to do this as a group by zoom, it would also be lovely for personal reflection.  More info here: https://www.rpbooks.co.uk/stations-of-the-infancy.

Holy Family is also planning on having an outdoor crib, to be a focus for personal and group prayer through Advent and Christmas.  People will be encouraged to take a photo of the crib and send it to the person they are praying for.

They will have a pre-recorded Christmas Mass, including elements from the young people of the parish and other groups, which will be released on Christmas Eve for everyone to take part in at a time that works for them.

They have teams that take newsletters to 90 parishioners who are housebound or shielding each week.

Through these activities, they hope to reach regular parishioners, families, the housebound and the wider community.  The outdoor crib in particular could be a real focus for local people, Catholic or not.

Holy Family is a big, multicultural parish in Slough.  St Anne’s, Wendover, is a small village church.  Here the strength is in our ecumenical partnership.  As part of Churches Together in Wendover we are planning a Christmas Carol trail around the village, with different houses taking part and sharing a representation of a Christmas carol, from a tableaux to a poster in the window.  At prearranged times, we will host coffee and mince pies at St Anne’s as part of the trail, and open the church for private prayer.  It would be easy to make it warm and welcoming with candles and music.  This will hopefully reach the whole community.

We also mentioned Bambinelli Sunday, started by Pope John Paul II, when people would bring their Christ Child figures down to St Peter’s Square to be blessed on the Third Sunday of Advent.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-12/pope-angelus-invitation-to-joy-on-bambinelli-sunday.html  Parishes in Ireland have taken this up – could this be an inspiration to us this year?  How could we do it safely?  This is a particular outreach to families, but everyone could take part.

Bishop David will be releasing a video reflection each week through Advent: https://northamptondiocese.org

Ideas from the group

After the planning time, we came up with a host of ideas:

Small groups through Advent: this could be done online using the Stations of the Infancy, another Advent book, or reflecting on the Sunday readings each week.  One parish were thinking of something similar to a bookclub, where people could share a variety of different things they’d been reading, but with prayer and reflection.

Outdoor cribs were the focus of a lot of creativity: could they be the site of an external prayer service, even a drive-in prayer service? Could there be the possibility of having candles lit, or just having a large lantern beside the crib.  One parish wondered if elements could be added over the weeks so that people would be drawn to visit it repeatedly.

Bambinelli Sunday was also taken up, with ideas including inviting children to dress up in nativity outfits.  Could this be done in the car park to accommodate more people? (obviously being careful of social distancing, touch points and other COVID security).  Could it be live-streamed as a special service for families and children?

Thought was being given to presents for the homeless, prisons and women’s refuges.  This will take more planning but isn’t impossible.  Contact the authorities involved well in advance to talk this over.

Jesse Trees were also mentioned – these can be ordered from the Bible Society for a donation, or you can make your own. https://www.godwhospeaks.uk/the-god-who-speaks/education/advent-jesse-tree/ , https://cathfamily.org/making-your-own-jesse-tree/

Teresa Brown came with a wonderful Advent Candle print out activity that can be used with families and everyone.  Each week, a different candle is put into the window, counting up to Christmas Day.  Download the templates here and also jpeg versions that can be put on parish websites:

Sr Dympna and Rosemarie Langley have created pray-at-home sheets for the housebound that can be distributed across Bedford. People can ring up and request them. See below for an example:

Other ideas for parishes:

Walk-through nativity trails – activities for families and everyone, including a torch-lit walk exploring darkness and light.

Zoom Christingle – give DIY bags out through schools with links to a zoom service

Zoom carol service (are your local schools singing? If so, could they record a carol or two)

Resources for a “Blue Christmas” – helping those suffering loss or despair this Christmas.

Nativity Play – a Very Zoom Christmas.  Our parish managed to film a nativity on zoom with children in separate houses. It took a bit of planning, but they really enjoyed taking part, especially choosing their own zoom backgrounds!  This could be part of a live-streamed or recorded Christmas service.

Connecting to those you are missing:

Families: Advent activities, Christmas Card with live-stream service details, Bible Society Jesse Tree 

House-bound: pray for parish groups through Advent, printed prayer and Scripture resources

Seekers: advertise your Christmas services and design with seekers in mind

People are going to want church this Christmas as never before!