Churches reduce holiday services, host Christmas Mass online amid pandemic

St. Matthias parishioners celebrate last holiday Mass ahead of church's scheduled closure
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Christmas services will be anything but usual as some of the faithful head to church for holiday worship.

At First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, instead of inside services, the church was planning on having outdoor Christmas Eve services at noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. until the cold weather forced the cancellation of the earlier services.

"We'll just have a 5 o'clock outdoor service in our Memorial Garden that will be about a half-an-hour of Christmas carols and candle lighting, and just Christian fellowship," said Rev. David Aslesen with First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge.

The service is limited to just 25 people who are required to make a reservation to attend, which is really different than the packed sanctuaries filled with Christmas crowds we ordinarily seen during this time of year.

RELATED: Archdiocese of Chicago to broadcast Mass from Holy Name Cathedral on ABC 7

Down the street at St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church, Father Britto Berchmans delivered his message of love and reconciliation during a small in-person service.

Once again, there was limited capacity and reservations were required.

And while some other churches in the area completely cancelled events and gone entirely online, the parishioners of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Libertyville, experienced a very unique Christmas Eve Mass.

The pastor of the north suburban church delivered his homily from a specially constructed tree-house type pulpit as the word was broadcast over the radio to churchgoers to remain in their cars.

While it's clear the pandemic has kept many of the faithful from gathering in the traditional way, religious leaders say this season of waiting will eventually give way to hope.

"Christ is coming to our hearts and Christ comes to our homes no matter where those hearts and homes are," Rev. Aslesen said.

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The Archdiocese plans to close the 132 year old Lincoln Square neighborhood church next month as a part of its "Renew My Church" initiative to close and consolidate to save money.

It's probably the last holiday, the Yassan family will be able to attended holiday mass at St. Matthias.

"It's so disappointing because we've been coming here for over 20 years and it's a great parish," said family matriarch, Dorothy Yassan.

The family has been a part of the parish for three generations, and are among those left angry and sad over its scheduled closure.

Parishioner Virginia Mann has been a member here since the 1960s.

"It's very much a community center," Mann said. "It's not just a religious location."

The Archdiocese plans to close the 132-year-old Lincoln Square neighborhood church next month as a part of its "Renew My Church" initiative to close and consolidate to save money.

"I don't understand why they are tearing down buildings and closing sacred space," said Terry Tuohy with Save St. Matthias.

The church's school, however, will remain open.

Chloe Hasmonek, 20, is an alum of the school who started the movement to save the church.

"My parents got married here, me and all my siblings got all of our sacraments here. I wanted to get married here and it's so sad to me," she said. "It could be the last time going to one of the big masses."

On Christmas Eve, Nick Yassan's family has some of the 119 seats made available for Thursday's holiday Mass as he prayers for a miracle to save the church and what he says is part of his family's legacy.

"Everybody's very sad because it's more than just a church," he said.

The Chicago Archdiocese will stream a pre-recorded Midnight Mass from Holy Name Cathedral Thursday night.

Before the service, there is also a pre-recorded Christmas concert.

You can see it all on the Archdiocese's website.

In-person masses at Holy Name are limited to 200 people and all spaces have been reserved.
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