Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Lakewood Baptist Church would hold a 10 p.m. in-person service on Christmas Eve. That service has since been canceled. Free Chapel's in-person services have also moved online, after Pastor Jentezen Franklin tested positive for COVID-19.
Some will gather in person, others virtually and at least one outside, but local churches will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ this Christmas.
Here’s what several Hall County churches are doing to bring hope this season as COVID-19 numbers surge locally.
Assembly of Praise
Per tradition, Lula’s Assembly of Praise will put on a Nativity reenactment for its Sunday service at 11 a.m. Dec. 20, Adam Reynolds, the congregation’s pastor, said.
Attendees will not be required to social distance or wear a mask.
“We’ll do the same thing that we have always done, and that’s trust adults to be adults,” Reynolds said. “And if they want to wear a mask, wear a mask and do their best to practice social distancing.”
When: 11 a.m. Dec. 20
Where: Assembly of Praise, 6158 Carter St., Lula
More info: assemblyofpraise.com
First Baptist Church of Gainesville
First Baptist recently announced it won’t hold in-person Sunday services for the rest of this year. However, the congregation will worship face-to-face this Christmas Eve.
An in-person Christmas Eve service will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, on the front lawn of the church. People are encouraged to bring a chair, a mask and social distance when attending.
First Baptist of Gainesville’s “Living Christmas Tree” tradition was canceled because of the pandemic. Instead, the church posted last year’s performance on its website for people to view. The “Christmas is Here” concert will be available to watch online Sunday, Dec. 20.
When: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 24
Where: Front lawn of First Baptist, 751 Green St., Gainesville
More info: fbcgainesville.org
First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville
People can join First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville for drive-thru caroling 6-7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18. Carolers will wear masks and visitors are encouraged to listen from inside their cars.
The church will hold two Christmas Eve services online beginning at 5 p.m and 11 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24. All worship services can be found on the church’s website.
When: Drive-thru caroling, 6-7 p.m. Dec. 18; virtual Christmas Eve services, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Dec. 24
Drive-thru caroling: 800 S Enota Drive NE, Gainesville
More info: fpcga.org/welcome
Free Chapel in Gainesville will hold a Christmas Eve service online at 5 p.m. Thursday.
When: Christmas celebration, 11 a.m. Dec. 20; Online Christmas Eve service, 5 p.m. Dec. 24, freechapel.org.
More info: freechapel.org
Gainesville First United Methodist Church
Although Gainesville First United Methodist Church has been holding in-person services, as of last week, church officials decided to shift back online.
Aaron King, the church’s communications director, said this change could extend into next year.
All Christmas events scheduled for the church will now be available to view on the church’s website.
The church held its Longest Night service Thursday evening and plans to stream its Christmas concert at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20.
King said the show has been in the works for nearly three months, and the musicians kept to strict COVID-19 protocols when recording the songs.
“The choir was limited and socially distanced, and they were wearing some kind of a special singing mask that is supposed to help not spread germs and all that kind of stuff,” King said.
The church will also stream two services on Christmas Eve from its website. The first will begin at 5 p.m with traditional music and a message, while the second service at 7 p.m. will have contemporary worship music.
When: Christmas concert, 4 p.m. Dec. 20; Christmas Eve services, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 24
More info: www.gfumc.com
Grace Episcopal Church
Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville has not held regular in-person services since the start of the pandemic, following decisions from the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
“So we have had a gradual approach to opening up our space to in-person worship,” the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham said.
The church will still offer several socially distanced events for Christmas, including a drive-thru “journey through Bethlehem,” where viewers will see several scenes of the birth of Christ.
The event will start at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19. Detailed directions can be found on the church’s website.
Grace Episcopal will also hold two Christmas Eve services at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, inside the church with a maximum of 50 visitors per service. Attendees are required to register for a seat and will be asked to social distance and wear masks while at the church.
Higginbotham said the pandemic has given them a way to practice their faith with acts of caring and looking out for each other.
“God always calls us to look outward and see where we can share the gifts we have been given,” Higginbotham said. “So, in a strange way, the virus has given us an opportunity to truly practice what we preach.”
When: 4 p.m. Dec. 19, drive-thru event; 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 24, Christmas Eve services
Where: Grace Episcopal Church, 422 Brenau Ave. NE, Gainesville
More info: www.gracechurchgainesville.org/
Lakewood Baptist Church
People can watch Lakewood Baptist’s Christmas Eve service live online.
“Previously we would’ve had multiple in-person services,” said Tyler Smiley, the church’s newly inducted senior pastor. “This year, it’s looking like we’ll do one primary service all online.”
The service will begin at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, and be held live online and include music, Scripture and the church’s annual Christmas Eve baptism. People can tune in by visiting Lakewood Baptist’s YouTube, Facebook page or livestream.
When: Online-only Christmas Eve service, 4 p.m. Dec. 24
Where: Lakewood Baptist Church’s worship center, 2235 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville
Oakwood Baptist Church
Oakwood Baptist Church will host a Christmas music special at 11 a.m Sunday, Dec. 20. To keep tradition going, Oakwood Baptist will hold its Christmas Eve candlelight service at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24.
Brian Evans, the church’s senior pastor, said regular cleanings are being implemented at the facility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks and social distancing are encouraged for services and events at the church.
When: 11 a.m. Dec. 20, Christmas music special; 6:30 p.m. Dec. 24, Christmas Eve service
Where: Oakwood Baptist Church, 4263 Martin Road, Flowery Branch
More info: oakwoodbaptistchurch.org
In-person services at Riverbend require reservations on the church’s website, and to limit the spread of COVID-19, capacity is capped at 270 people.
“Everything is as hands-free as possible,” Joe Payton, pastor of Riverbend, said. “A lot of people are wearing masks; we encourage masks on campus.”
Many events outside of weekly Sunday services are also taking place at the church. A traditional Christmas Eve communion service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24. The function will be limited to 130 spots with required registration. People can still view the service online at Riverbend’s website.
For those wanting to take communion at home during the service, Payton said they can pick up pre-packaged elements at the church from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 24.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 24
Where: Riverbend Church, 1715 Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
More info: riverbendchurch.life