Ocala churches deal with Christmas services in the middle of a pandemic


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Posted December 24, 2020 | By Brendan Farrell, Ocala Gazette

There’s a large, white tent set up on the lawn outside First Presbyterian Church of Ocala. Normally, services would be held inside the church’s sanctuary, but not this year. Instead, First Presbyterian’s Christmas Eve service will take place underneath the sprawling white canvas. 

Churches across the country have spent the year trying to figure out how to worship in the face of a pandemic. With Christmas Eve right around the corner, churches in Ocala have accepted that this won’t be a normal Christmas. Churches have spent most of the year online, but some are opening their doors for Christmas to those who want to attend in-person instead. 

First Presbyterian Church of Ocala opted to move their Christmas Eve services to a tent service outside. The church’s session decided against a traditional indoor service inside the sanctuary. 

Instead, First Presbyterian Church of Ocala will be hosting a service at 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. While candlelight services and communion are part of a “normal” Christmas Eve service, First Presbyterian will do neither. 

“We had done a test tent service trial run in November to see if this would be good for Christmas to do,” said Helen Quinlan, communications specialist for First Presbyterian. “You can go in the tent, and you can also drive your car up and around the tent and listen to the radio station. You’re able to see the service going and listen to it live on the radio.”

Mt. Zion AME Church also won’t be celebrating Christmas in-person this year. They will have prayer, but the church celebrated Christmas on Sunday virtually. Mt. Zion has been doing Zoom services every Sunday throughout the pandemic. 

Instead, the church also posted a video on its Facebook page of a virtual Christmas play. The young adults of the church went into homes while following CDC social distancing guidelines, filmed segments and put it all together into one video.

“They definitely told the scene that Santa Claus is out there, but what is most important is what God has done for us by giving us his son,” Reverend Rhella Murdaugh said. “I thought that was a powerful piece they put together.”

First Baptist Church of Ocala will still be having their traditional worship services at 4:00 and 6:00 on Christmas Eve. Drive-in worship will also be available on the church’s softball field, though it will be the last time the church will do that. 

Every other pew will be blocked off to maintain social distancing, and everyone who lives in the same house is recommended to sit on the outside of each row. Everyone will enter through the same entrance and be directed on when to leave. Masks are not required.

Church at the Springs is also offering 12 in-person services across their three campuses between Dec. 22 and Christmas Eve just to meet the demand for in-person worship. Attendance requires a reservation ahead of time, and almost all the services are full as of Tuesday afternoon.

Blessed Trinity Catholic Church will have a midnight mass on Christmas Eve and then 7:10, 8:45, 11:00 and 5:00 services on Christmas Day. There will also be a Spanish service at 1 p.m.