By Kirk Petersen
Just in time for Christmas, the District of Columbia became the hottest of hot spots for new COVID cases, leading Washington National Cathedral to close its doors for Christmas and for the remainder of the year.
“As one of the largest churches in America, we routinely welcome more than 15,000 people to celebrate the Christmas holiday,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, in an announcement December 22. “However, given the spike in infections, I simply cannot justify gathering massive crowds as the public health situation worsens around us.” Just one day earlier, the cathedral had announced that only a few services would be canceled.
In New York City, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine announced earlier in the week that all Christmas services will be online-only. Trinity Wall Street will continue to hold in-person services, but reluctantly announced that it would require proof of vaccination for visitors age 5 and up. “We say this is a difficult decision because we believe in our hearts that the church should be a place of welcome for all. But we also believe that it is our obligation to provide as safe an environment as possible for all who worship.”
Across the border in the Anglican Church of Canada, the Bishop of Niagara ordered all churches shuttered for Christmas. The diocese includes 90 worshipping communities in several Ontario counties, north of Lake Erie.
On the Episcopal Communicators Facebook group, members of that nationwide organization have been exchanging notes about cancellation plans, with no clear trend emerging.
The numbers in the nation’s capital are stark. Data published December 23 by the Washington Post show a seven-day rolling average of 158 daily new cases per 100,000 population — more than three times the national average of 51, and more than in any state. Rhode Island had the worst numbers for any state, at 124 new daily cases.
“While I am disappointed not to be able to gather in person, this pandemic has already taught us how to join together as an online community,” Hollerith wrote. “These bonds of connection extend beyond our walls and give us ways to gather safely, even across vast distances. As the world shifts around us, I believe we need to be responsible and responsive. It is better to pause now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and be filled with regret later.”
The cathedral has highly sophisticated streaming equipment and experienced personnel, and will stream major services on its YouTube channel. Plans call for reopening the doors for in-person worship on Sunday, January 9.
The highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus has scrambled holiday and travel plans for many, and raises questions about major events planned in 2022.
On December 22, the General Convention Office announced that masks and proof of vaccination will be required at the 80th General Convention, which was postponed last year because of the pandemic. The convention is now scheduled for July 7-14, 2022, at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland.