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No Church Services This Christmas

Religious services around Christmas will be in a different format than usual due to the pandemic, RÚV reports. Bishop of Iceland Agnes M Sigrðardóttir does not think it likely that people will be able to attend mass in person on Christmas Eve.

Iceland’s churches were empty yesterday, on the first Sunday of the Advent. Due to gathering bans and social distancing, no Sunday services were planned, a situation that will likely continue throughout the Advent.  “I can’t see any changes, considering the state of the country and the rest of the world, that will allow us to hold mass in the churches,” Agnes told RÚV.

While church attendance at Sunday services is generally low and the percentage of the nation who are members of the National Church is steadily decreasing, Christmas Eve church services are a popular affair, and churches are usually busy with events and concerts throughout December. Instead of asking congregations to gather in churches, the Church of Iceland has been looking for ways to offer their services in a way that complies with infection prevention rules. “Instead of the people coming to church, the church is trying to come to the people,” said Agnes.

Minister of the Reykjavík Independent Church Hjörtur Magni Jóhannsson is facing the same predicament. “We try to solve it by streaming the services. It’s different and not what we’re used to but Christmas is the festival of lights and we’re trying to see the light in all of this.”

Davíð Þór Jónsson, parish minister of Laugerneskirkja in Reykjavík is also seeking out ways to keep up religious services during the advent. “We’ve recorded short services that we broadcast online, and I’ve also created virtual confirmation classes.” In addition to online activities, some parishes are considering open-air services during the Advent, if weather conditions allow. “I assume we’ll try to do something outside the church on Christmas Eve, a choir performance or a short service,” says Davíð.

Even if no one attends the services except for the Organ player and a recording technician, church staff believe they’re reaching their congregants and even some new faces. “We started doing online services last spring, but this time around, we put more effort into it. We’re working with a recording technician who’s helping us with the sound in particular,” a minister in Akranes told Landinn. They’re happy with the reception, even hoping to continue the online services once the churches open again. “We’ve been very well received, but we do hear that people miss coming to their church.”

Online church services are not the only thing different about this year’s advent. Usually, the mayor lights the lights on the city’s official Christmas tree during a popular family event on the first Sunday of the Advent. Due to gathering bans, there were no crowds yesterday when Hákon Örn Steen Bjarnason, a young boy of Icelandic and Norwegian descent turned on the lights, with the help of Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson. Since 1951, the city’s Christmas tree has been a gift from the city of Oslo, although these days, the actual tree comes from Heiðmörk forest on the outskirts of Reykjavík.


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