During Christmas time, spiritual connection — whether it’s camaraderie between human beings or communion with the divine — could lose its way somewhere in the bustle of holiday parties, shopping and vacations.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic along with the recent stay-at-home order have thrown a wrench in every holiday celebration, and Christmas hasn’t been spared. But, the pandemic may have inspired many in Southern California to engage in a variety of activities from turning inward and seeking the true meaning behind the holiday to creating new family traditions and seeking out safe ways to physically be with other people.
Growing in faith
The pandemic, destructive as it’s been, appears to have given many a new-found appreciation for “being in the presence of others,” said Monsignor Stephen Doktorczyk, who serves in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange’s administrative offices and ministers to parishioners at St. Polycarp Catholic Church in Stanton.
He says more people than ever are coming to confessions, even though they take place outdoors without a screen, with the priest and parishioner sitting 6 feet apart. Doktorczyk says he has also been surprised to see more people show up to 6:30 a.m. Mass outdoors in 40-degree weather.
“I’ve gotten so many questions from people who are dealing with personal struggles,” he said. “I’ve heard from those who are afraid of the uncertainty the future holds. Teens in high schools who were hoping for a sports scholarship are worried because that’s up in the air. Some people have doubts and ask, why is God allowing this to happen?”
Doktorczyk says he invites people to read the Bible and use this time to grow in their faith.
“I don’t know if God has created (the pandemic),” he said. “But he’s allowing it. It very well could be a time of purification for us — to return to our roots and to what’s more important. Maybe it’s time to think: Is God inviting or challenging me to change my way of thinking and consider if my priorities are misguided?”
Reflection and service
Those who are seeking spiritual succor during the holidays might want to set side some time and space for themselves during this time when they can’t find it in church gatherings and group worship, said Pastor Vadim Dementyev with Riverside Community Church.
“It could be a walk or quiet time in the morning or late at night,” he said. “Ask reflective questions: What concerns me today? What brings me joy today? What kind of people would I like to connect with? Turn to traditional spiritual authority. For Christians, it’s the Bible. There’s a reason why these writings survived the test of time.”
It’s also important to seek community, whether it’s physical gatherings (done safely) or virtual, Dementyev said.
“The most important thing is to find people who have been the most positive influence in your life and connect with them,” he said. “Chances are, if that kind of presence was helpful to you in the past, it will be helpful to you now. Engage in the work of service. It helps you find hope in a time of despair.”
The pastor says there is inspiration to be had from the Christmas story when it comes to dealing with adversity. Christ was not born in happy, peaceful times, he says.
“He was born in a harsh time, dealing with injustice, an economic system built on slavery, in a time of political upheaval,” Dementyev said. “He came in such a time when hope was needed, and gave us hope.”
Helping people connect
During the time of the pandemic, faith leaders have been challenged in a big way to help people find that spiritual connection, said Pastor Daniel Bishop, who leads The Grove Community Church in Riverside.
“The ongoing challenge we have had as a church this Christmas season is making all of our services and events possible outside and hoping the weather holds up, and so far it has,” he said.
His church hosted an outdoor Christmas production last weekend and offered 39 different times between Friday and Sunday in group sizes of 100 to 150. About 4,800 people participated. The church also recorded the service for those who wished to watch online, which thousands more did, Bishop said.
“It was a lot more work for our staff, but we were able to pull it off as a team and believe that God used us in a great way,” he said.
But, the pandemic has also presented other heartbreaking situations, Bishop said.
Reaching out to one another
“A big challenge is caring for our people who are sick in the hospital when we can’t go and be present with them,” he said. “We have had to creatively FaceTime with them, and send messages or cards whenever possible.”
Meeting in small groups outside the church campus or virtually has also helped people make the spiritual connections “we are meant to have with each other and with God,” Bishop said.
Churches are getting calls seeking help not just with material things, but also with mental health needs, said Linda Ji, director of the Office for Family Life in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
“We have had a lot of people reaching out to the New Hope Crisis Center on our campus,” she said referring to the hotline, which provides suicide prevention counseling. “I’ve also gotten more calls asking for Catholic therapists, I’d say more than twice the number of calls. Some calls have been for marital counseling. It just shows the impact that stress and anxiety can have on people.”
Not being able to gather as a church is also forcing Christian communities to engage with one another more than they usually do during Christmas, said the Rev. Dan Davidson of Pasadena.
“Not all churches can do a drive-thru nativity scene,” he said. “It’s forcing Christian communities to get out and see what’s out there. They are seeking out the spaces where they can find a more meaningful experience during the holidays. And it’s coming from connecting with other faith communities and enjoying the opportunities they are offering.”
Source: Orange County Register