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The following topic is more about in-church, in-person Advent during the era of COVID. If you're looking for at-home lessons and celebration ideas, go to our Celebrating and Teaching about Advent & Christmas at Home forum.

Worshiping and Learning Together
during Advent and Christmas

We originally developed this topic for the 2020 Advent season when COVID was on the rise and there was no vaccine. We're now adapting and adding to it for the 2021 Advent Season where things are still up in the air in some churches, and some distancing or masking restrictions are still in place in many churches.

As we head toward the holiday season, here are a few of the questions on everyone's minds:

  • How do we gather in-church or at-home in meaningful ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus?
  • How do we reach out and involve those who can't be with us?
  • Is there a safe way to sing the joyous songs of the season - together?
  • How can we keep our traditions and stay safe at the same time?
  • How do we include older members and others who are not comfortable gathering at this time?

Each church's response will  be different, based on needs, size, resources, traditions, and location with regard to COVID rates. And we already know from recent "re-openings" that many members are making up their own minds about "what's safe" and some are staying away. That raises the additional task (and opportunity) of providing both for those in-church and for those who need to be included at home.

The common need is for attractive options and flexible thinking. Many traditions will need to be tweaked, and that also presents us with an opportunity to get out of our ruts and start new traditions.

Here are a few initial resources:

Keep in mind that some people will not want to wear masks, or may be unvaccinated, and this may affect both those who won't and those who do attend.

And... be prepared to share your programs with members who CANNOT ATTEND in person. In that respect, Facetime and Zoom are real "angels."



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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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This next idea is a great way to involve more people even after the pandemic lifts. Its novel approach can fit more schedules and attract new people from outside your community.

Virtual Choirs,
Recording Virtual Performances,
and singing together online this Advent

What is a Christmas program or Advent worship without special seasonal music and everyone singing Silent Night and Joy to the World?  The thing is, THIS YEAR choirs and congregations have to be smart about safely singing. It makes no sense to glorify God while spreading a virus that can kill.

Fortunately, choirs, musicians, singers, and churches have been experimenting quite a bit with ways to virtually sing together, and the following resources share some of their best advice.

Here are the basic options for singing together online:

  1. Small group "live" sing-a-longs (Fun to experiment with if you have the right settings.)
  2. Larger group rehearsals (Quite possible with caveats, see the advice below.)
  3. Online "congregational" singing (Challenging due to software and internet speed limitations. Ask people to mute their mics as they sing along.)
  4. Online performances, both live and pre-recorded. (Pre-recorded requires someone with video editing capability. Live can be limited by internet speed lags causing some to be out of sync.)

The following video illustrates the "lag time" issue when 4 singers attempt to follow and harmonize on a simple piano part. The video after that shows the "setting" in Zoom to enable people to be more likely able to sing together.

The larger your group, the more likely you are to have some singers "lagging behind," which can create a problem for everyone. If they lag behind, have them "mute" their microphones when singing.

Virtual Rehearsal and Performances

Because of lag-time issues and the desire to sing songs for other people's worship and enjoyment, many "virtual choirs" edit together individual video recordings from each singer to produce an online performance.

The following video is a brief rundown of the steps and software necessary to RECORD singers and musicians and edit them together to produce a virtual choir performance. There are several audio and video editing tutorials linked in the video. They mention certain software, but you have more than a few options.

As spectacular as some virtual choirs are (Eric Whitacre, we're looking at you), recording and editing together individual performances is not easy for beginners. This article Dear Music Teachers: Please Stop Asking How To Create A Virtual Choir Video explains the "how to" and suggests some alternatives, such as using the Acapella app .  Keep in mind that many teens and Millennials edit videos as a hobby for their Instagram and Facebook amusement. Check around.

The following video goes a little deeper into Zoom's setting for improved sound quality for singing with Zoom. You'll be enabling Zoom's "original sound" mode to facilitate rehearsals and the sound coming from the group's musician.

Thinking of singing or performing together in person?

See these suggested protocols from medical experts "to decrease the risk of COVID transmission while singing.” In brief:

  • Perform outside when possible. Inside, open windows and doors.

  • Use PPE, at least cloth face masks. Singing is possible with a mask.

  • When with others, physical distancing of six feet or more appears paramount.

  • Shorten performance times. There is no absolutely “safe” duration, and so organizations should do everything they can to limit the gathering to the shortest possible time period.

  • Limit extraneous activities (eg, breaks, socializing, food, etc.).

  • Wipe down items that have been set up or touched by others before and after use (chairs, scores/paper music, instruments, music stands, etc.).

  • Screen for symptoms, including fever, upper respiratory infection symptoms such as coughing and nasal congestion, loss of smell and taste. Take temperatures of singers prior to entering the space. Remember that some infected patients will not have any symptoms.

  • Avoid direct contact (eg, joining hands).

  • Practice meticulous hygiene. Wash or disinfect hands before and after performances. Singers should not touch their face as part of a warm up exercise or singing instruction method (or anytime unnecessarily).

  • Sick singers should stay home as should singers who have been around a COVID-19 positive patient. Exposed singers should self-quarantine for two weeks.

Other resources and articles of interest:

Last edited by Luanne Payne

Virtual Theater

Techniques for re-enacting Christmas stories online during COVID and beyond!

a youth shakespearean drama production on Zoom

A youth Shakespearean drama production on Zoom

If your church does not feel comfortable gathering for traditional Advent rehearsals and performances this year, there are still options!  Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, many churches, schools, and community theaters have been experimenting with and producing "virtual theater" performances both live and recorded.

From Pioneer Drama Service:

"Virtual Theater are plays and scenes written specifically to be both rehearsed and performed online via a video conferencing platform such as Zoom or Google Meet. They can also be played back at any time afterwards -- which will expand your "attendance" at the event. Virtual Theater is a new and exciting art form that is just beginning to evolve and reveal its potential.  Just a short time ago, no one would have conceived of trying to perform a scene, let alone an entire play, with every actor isolated in their own home.  And yet, it’s happening...  with surprisingly positive results.

Most of the plays here are designed for the characters to be communicating without face-to-face dialogue, yet still interacting with each other in real-time.  This unique quality creates the ideal scenario to perform them online.  Many virtual plays also lend themselves well to be performed live with social distancing for everyone’s comfort and safety.

Virtual Theatre is far more than storytelling on camera, and there’s a world of acting still to be done to add depth and meaning to the words you’re speaking, even without a traditional stage."

To this definition of "virtual theater," we are also adding those performances organized, assigned by the church and then created by families and individuals on their own time and posted to the church's Facebook page and website to create a "montage" of retelling one story or many stories.

A How-to Guide for Virtual Theatre is a free PDF that is a good place to start exploring options and techniques. Consider how you can stage a production with the actors scattered throughout your community (or even around the world!). "Here’s the key to putting on a successful virtual theatre performance: you need a solid understanding of how to utilize the features of your video conferencing service to enhance your production and maximize the immersive experience for your viewers." This booklet includes detailed instructions for setting up your performance using Zoom, but includes much information that will be useful for whatever platform and format you end up using.

Be sure to also review the helpful suggestions in How to Direct an Online Rehearsal for a Youth Zoom Theatre Performance from the ImprovEd Shakespeare Co. (their production is pictured above and there is a video of a production linked in the article).

Consider taking some of the virtual theatre ideas and adapt a favorite script (or find one here)  and create your own online performance to be shared with friends near and far.

  • Select a script.
  • Cut the script into family-sized pieces.
  • Recruit children/families to read, sing, & dress up in costumes or hold props.
  • If the script is divided in a way that different children will play the same character in different scenes, establish costume guidelines, such as "Mary always wears blue and Joseph always wears brown."

    You can also simply assign scripture passages and suggest ways to "creatively capture" them in photos or video for viewing by others. See some techniques below and consider the fun "Flat Lay" technique described here for either photos or videos!

Creating and Assembling a Pre-Recorded "Virtual Theater" Performance

Though "live" performances can be exciting, you may have a need to let participants pre-record their participation for inclusion in a series of videos your audience can view at any time online. These can be posted "as people make them" during Advent (such as, one story retelling per week) or a collection of links to photos/videos posted on the church's Facebook page or web page.

Here are some steps and ideas for doing so.

  • Choose the story you want to be told. Perhaps it is a walk through famous Christmas stories and scenes, a Christmas "script," or a sing-a-long. Have participants record with their web cam or cell phone and send it to you.
  • Or...have them take a few digital pictures of participants dressed and acting as the Christmas story characters.
  • Ask participants to record themselves singing Christmas songs and inviting viewers to sing with them.
  • Give families instructions on uploading or e-mailing all of the audio & video files. Dropbox or google files might be good places to collect all of the files.
  • Link all the pieces of the Christmas program together in order using video editing software. Your tech crew at church -- or members of your youth group  — can help with this.)
  • Post the edited production or individual videos and photos on your church web site or Facebook page. Share on YouTube.

Steps to create a live (or prerecorded in real-time) performance can be found in the "How To Guide for Virtual Theatre" PDF described above.

Whichever method you use to put together your performance, be sure to tell church members, families, and grandparents when to tune in to watch the children as they make the Christmas story come to life -- and make sure you take time to create buzz and excitement about your event using the features included with a YouTube premiere or Facebook watch party.

Here are the kinds of "scripts" that might work best for virtual theater performances where you might have many different participants and groups to juggle.

  • TV news shows, with a variety of interviewers, anchormen, and live on the scene activity. Check out "The Channel 7 News" script in the Jesus is Born lesson set.
  • Variety shows with different families sharing a verse of a song or a passage read from the Bible or a Bible story acted out.
  • There are a variety of suggestions and links in this article from Building Faith: Christmas Pageants 2020: Recorded, Zoomed, Live Outside.
  • Here is an outline for a simple Lessons and Carols script that can be used with Zoom and/or by video recording.

And please share your script suggestions below, as well as links to your finished production.

Here is a video from 2018 that is a great example of the traditional Christmas story recorded in a physically distanced way:

Additional resources to help you work with your actors online:

Virtual Theatre Education Resources: the epic crowdsourced list

Teaching drama online: free tools and resources

"Flat Lay" Drama technique for posing photos or creating unique videos

For theatre educators: resources for creating virtual performances

Getting ready to direct your first virtual play

Show Must Go Online - tech support guide - while the details shared by a drama teacher apply to a specific show, they are helpful for organizing, recording, and editing any show.

Zoom Drama Tips: Using Technology for Biblical Storytelling from Building Faith has practical suggestions from casting to scripting to recording to sharing.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Here is a script you can use for a virtual performance: Writing Team's Jesus is Born! The "News Team 7" Breaking News. (This Writing Team lesson is free and open to all! )

The script is available as a docx file so that you can easily revise it and send copies to your actors. 

Adaptations you make will depend on how many actors and/or families would like to have a part. This is the cast list from the script:

  1. Anchor 1: Chet Chumley
  2. Anchor 2: Cheer-y Chatter
  3. Announcer (a single line)
  4. Chip Chopper, Reporter
  5. Mary
  6. Joseph
  7. The Lord God Almighty
  8. Donkey
  9. Sheep

The script is written so that some of these characters are in a scene together (for example, the two news anchors are sitting at the same news desk, and of course Mary and Joseph are together). You can either cast those parts so that the actors are all in the same household. Or you can rewrite the script so that only one person is in the scene at a time. Or you can be creative with your filming and use a Zoom-type split screen. Or have the different families use the same background (either a digital background or a plain white sheet) and edit small snippets of film together, with the focus on whoever is speaking (as in this video). 

Ways to adjust the casting to include more than 9 people:

  • Have additional news anchors (perhaps 2 teams of 2 for two different days' newscasts)
  • 3 chopper scenes could mean three different chopper reporters (and 1 shy actor could do scene 2 as a voiceover).
  • Mary and Joseph are in two different scenes, so they could be played by two different sets of actors. Just coordinate what they are wearing (for example, "Mary wears blue and Joseph wears brown") or give them similar props to make it easier to know they are the "same" people.
  • Add more animals. And they can be in separate places for ease of filming.


The news show can also be expanded by adding commercials. Assign these to your more creative families.

Another family could build and film the aerial scenery for scene 2.

The news drama script is part of a lesson, which you can incorporate into the drama production process. Either have the lesson as a Zoom session with your actors and families and write the improvised parts of the script together, or let each family work on enhancing and developing their part of the script on their own.

Thinking about having families come to church at assigned times to record parts of the Christmas story... then somehow meld it all together and post it online.

I like the idea of making advent wreaths at home and using that during the Wed evening Advent services (and/or Sunday mornings).   That is as far as I have gotten.

Hope to see other ideas here as you get past fall activities all done differently and start looking toward Christmas.  This is exhausting!!  Hang in there everyone and be well!

@MAmick posted:

Thinking about having families come to church at assigned times to record parts of the Christmas story... then somehow meld it all together and post it online.

Hi Michele,

I like the idea.

What if you broke the Advent story into three or four parts, one per week, and had two or more families sign-up for each week to POST their own "1 minute" video version of that part of the story on your church's Facebook page, or send it to you for posting on your church website? That way you'd get variety and more people involved and no need to edit or compile it yourself.

You provide the script/scriptures and parameters, and let them decide how and where to creatively modify and record it. That way they could do it on their own time with their own resources.  Assign the first week to people who have some creative ideas so that others get inspired.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

A "Nativity Photo Shoot" idea

Way back in 2003, I belonged to a new church development that was meeting in a movie theater complex. We had limited time to use our limited space on Sunday mornings, but we wanted to have some sort of "pageant" during a worship service before Christmas. (This idea could be used outside of a worship service too.)

So one Sunday afternoon we invited all interested children to come to the church office. The temporary office was in a house on a farm (long since turned into subdivisions), so the outdoor locations were attractive. We put the kids in costumes and arranged them in tableaus to fit the Script. Anyone who wanted to be Mary, Gabriel, etc. could, for at least one picture. They just wore the "Mary costume" or the "Gabriel costume" in one of the shots.

In order to involve children that could not make it to the official photoshoot, the next Sunday we took more pictures before Sunday school of individual angels, shepherds and sheep, some of which were made into group shots and some left separate. They were quickly costumed in big white t-shirts with tinsel halos or paper sheep ear headbands.

To adapt this idea for current distancing needs, you could schedule families to come at different times and compose scenes from those family members. Or families could be assigned scenes and stage their own pictures and send them to you.  

You can see the full script and description of pictures Here. (I am sorry to say the pictures were online at the church website until someone decided to update and clean up the site, and I did not save them.)

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

An idea about "other kinds" of costumes for the nativity...

How about inviting participants to create their own and not be limited by "traditional" Nativity-style costumes or themes in their photo.

For that matter, how about a special Sunday where people are invited to come in their own "costume." If you're a nurse, wear scrubs, etc. If you're a teacher, carry books and dress the part. If you're a coach or athlete, wear a uniform. Vacation clothes, gardening clothes --who comes to the manger?

For example:

Who comes to the manger?   Thinking of "costumes" people wear in real life. Kids on sports teams, Parents in work clothes. People bringing food to donate (like the Magi). First responders. Dad in his Santa suit. Golfers, gardeners. Ugly Xmas sweaters. A family carrying "Peace and Justice" signs. Singers. Bring your dog. A family dressed as angels or wearing shepherd's beards made out of fun-fur or brown felt.  Think of them like a Christmas card to the congregation.

Who comes and how can you use  WHO you are and WHAT you "bring" to the Manger for godly purposes?

This kind of creativity is also a memorable teaching opportunity and the photos are likely to get shared across social media. You could also "Live Zoom" people arriving and interview them.


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Last edited by Luanne Payne

Remember to share with us your virtual and online Christmas programs, like @Heather DeWit of Community Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, SD did!

Thank you, Heather! You made this look easy, but I can tell a great deal of work went into coordinating and editing this production.  This made me smile. And maybe even cry.

Right now (August 2021) it is hard to tell what Christmas 2021 will look like, with Covid-19 surging in parts of the US (and world). So, for those who may be thinking about being ready with an alternative to an in-person pageant again this year, here is an article from Building Faith, with notes on how the video was produced: Pandemic Times in a Small Church: Using Our Gifts to Celebrate Our Gifts by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard.

Good News of Great Joy! The Amazing Grace and St Peter's Christmas Pageant from Robert Bergner on Vimeo.

"... personal messages (sometimes followed up with phone calls) drew an impressive response. Many people said they were touched to have been contacted individually. Those who recorded scenes in person in the church told the camera team how powerful it felt to be back in the sanctuary with fellow parishioners, even briefly and under these unfamiliar conditions. The sense of teamwork and mutual support was powerful."

The suggestions in the article for Easter and Pentecost worship programs may also be helpful as you think about creative ways to work with your congregation to create your own worshipful Christmas celebration program.

Last edited by Amy Crane

We did a drive-through Christmas pageant/nativity story in December 2020.  Then we did a drive-through Easter/Holy Week event in April 2021.  Both were well received and well attended.


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