In person and online, Christians gather to celebrate Christmas Eve

ORLANDO, Fla. — The rise of the Omicron variant did not stop Christians across Central Florida from gathering to mark the biggest holiday of the year.

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One by one, congregations of all denominations gathered for services, carols, hymns and affirmations of faith on the day where churches traditionally mark the birth of Jesus.

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“As I like to say, it’s the boss’ birthday and a lot of churches are throwing parties for him,” Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist Pastor Charles Myers said with a grin.

Myers leads a Washington Shores-based community that is rich in civil rights history. As such, his messaging had undertones of rising against oppression and aiding the poor, in a style that mixed traditional elements with gospel.

“God transforms humanity from the inside out, that Christmas is really an inside job,” he explained. “God becomes one of us in order to save us.”

Across town, two churches in the same neighborhood held three vastly different ceremonies.

Reformation Lutheran Orlando met in two groups: first, in a “Lessons and Carols” type family service filled with bells, songs and a story about the birth of Christ.

The pastor’s overarching theme affirmed his flock’s faith in each other and in God, reading from Isaiah’s first chapter, but also citing quotes from “The Grinch who stole Christmas.”

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The second meeting was an adult-oriented candlelight service.

Around the corner, Joy Metropolitan Community Church’s reverend gave her service a theme about light, using an array of props from a candle to a flashlight.

The LGBT-friendly congregation’s messaging centered around being true to oneself.

“This has been one of the most, if not the most loving, open, affirming churches that I’ve ever been in,” Board Member LeAnn Hamlin explained, adding that she moved to Orlando after discovering the church in the wake of the Pulse shooting. “This is my family.”

Every church showed the adjustments it had made after two years of the coronavirus pandemic. All three live streamed for members who could not or would not join in-person. All three had modified communions to avoid spreading germs. St. John the Baptist required masks.

Myers compared 2021 to the year Jesus was born, saying both were chaotic and marred by corruption from the powerful. However, he said his congregation was strong.

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It showed, with the biggest crowd he’s seen since March of 2020 Friday night.

“The little times that we can gather together safely and come to church safely, or maybe eat safely, I think makes fellowship more richer,” he said. “I think that’s what’s going to come out of this pandemic.”

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