Christmas Eve services across New Hampshire will look different on Thursday. Some churches will have virtual gatherings.
Others, like St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Hopkinton, plan on a socially distanced outdoor service, with a reenactment of the Christmas story.
Rob Hirschfeld is the bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, and will lead Thursday’s service. He says the pandemic has prompted him to think more about what it means to be present.
Hirschfeld says reminded of the shepherds in the Christmas story.
“They’re not accomplishing anything, they’re not manufacturing anything, they’re not delivering any service,” he said. “It’s just a scene of presence. It may seem scandalously simple. But I don’t know what else we have as a way of showing how love can enter the world."
Hirschfeld says over the past nine months, he’s been practicing that through meeting weekly or biweekly with all of the Episcopal clergy in the state.
“I pray with them. We listen to each other’s pain, sorrow, and our joys and successes,” he said.
One of the questions Hirschfeld is left with: What was so important before this that kept him from having a “deep, soulful connection with the people that I so appreciate and work with?”
“I’m wondering if we all might be asking that question. What was so important that kept us from learning how to be present with each other, before we couldn’t be present with each other in this way?”
Hirschfeld says that despite the pandemic the church community has had success with staying connected online. They’re considering establishing a “digital cathedral,” as a way for people who may not have a religious affiliation or church to drop in or out in a way that’s more anonymous, in a way that can’t be done in physical churches.
And as for what he’s asking for Christmas? Hirschfeld says all he wants is time in a coffee shop, talking with a friend, with no masks.
But for now, he’s finding other ways to be present with those he loves.