Christmas Eve Service Preparations Underway: China and USA

During my time in the States, I am constantly updated through friends, students and colleagues about the virus situation in China. For the most part, things returned to normal beginning in the summer after strict protocols went into place on how to control Covid-19. Quite simple, really: If a case suddenly popped up anywhere in the country, everything shut down in that particular place. Contact tracing was implemented to pinpoint where the individual had been and who had been exposed. Massive testing of everyone within the person’s apartment building area went into place, anywhere from 2 million residents upwards, completed in a matter of days.

Almost all cases were imported, from returning overseas’ Chinese or foreign business people who came in for work purposes. The 2 Covid tests required 48-hours before getting on the plane (an anti-body test and a Covid test) plus the 2-week mandatory hotel quarantine upon entry into the airport, helped keep the virus from leaking into the public.

Despite these efforts, there were a few cases that mysteriously popped up with little clue as to where they came from. This happened last month in my particular region of China.

Sichuan Becomes a Hot-spot

Sichuan Province, where Luzhou (the smaller city of 5 million where I live) is located, was doing very well until last month. In the capital city of Sichuan, Chengdu, which is 3 1/2 hours away from Luzhou, a young woman tested positive. She was asymptomatic but her grand-parents became sick, thus the discovery of the virus. The girl was living with them and when they were tested for the virus, just in case, the positive result sent the hospital staff and city into virus-containment overdrive. Since everyone in China must have the health App on their phones, authorities can easily track where a person has been or is currently. The young woman’s route throughout the city, when it was discovered she was a carrier, was posted on government websites. Arrows and lines tracked her from different venues she’d visited, from several coffee bars, shops, the grocery and a friend’s house. Those who had been to those places were requested to come in for testing. Also, health officials in full protective gear went to test her grandparents’ apartment to see how much of the virus residue was left. They found quite a lot.

Local TV channels and newspapers reported the grandmother was not doing well but the grandfather seemed stable. The adult grand-daughter, meanwhile, was feeling fine but quarantined for 2 weeks far from others in a designated hotel outside of the city.

How Chengdu’s virus pop-up affected Luzhou and the Luzhou Protestant Church 

When Chengdu went into a red-zone infection category, Luzhou medical personnel were immediately called to their hospitals, clinics and offices as emergency procedures were put into place.  Luzhou has bus and car travel to and from Chengdu on a regular basis, with thousands of Chengdu-Luzhou/ Luzhou-Chengdu passengers a day journeying along the expressway and entering/exiting both cities.  The possibility of a virus-carrying someone landing in Luzhou from the capital city, 170 miles away, was deemed highly likely.  Temperature checks went back into effect for anyone on the freeway coming into the city.  The same went for people entering the city’s grocery stores with masks once again appearing on people’s faces.  

As for the Luzhou Protestant Church, which had been holding in-person services since the large-gathering ban was lifted in June,  notices from the religious affairs bureau to the church leaders were sent out about safety precautions to take.  Congregation numbers were to be limited, masks worn, members seated  3-feet apart and temperature checks taken upon entry.

Pastor Liao and others were informed to wait a few more weeks before final word came  down about Christmas Eve services and if those should be virtual only or could be in-person as always.  

As of last week, I heard the verdict:  Services can take place but with limited numbers entering the church.  Due to this, the church decided to do a fully taped virtual service to offer the public and believers with a fewer number of congregation members attending on Christmas Eve.  

The showing of the recorded service will be in the church on Christmas Day, beginning at 3 p.m., with a posting of the recording as well on WeChat (China’s equivalent of Facebook).

Choir Rehearsals Announced

As a choir member, I still receive the Christmas Eve rehearsal instructions:   schedule of practices, what to wear, warm-ups to do, the program order of service and hints for food intake.  The most recent text message is as follows:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters:  Rehearsals will start promptly at 7 p.m. today.  The church has prepared food:  soybean milk, bread and eggs on the 3rd floor.  If you want noodles, we contacted the noodle shop next to the church for dinner.  The brothers and Sisters who want noodles must go on their own, between 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.  Pray that God will prepare us for the presentation.  Thank the Lord!  Hallelujah!”

My Hometown Church Rehearsal and Recording

In response to all the choir announcements, I sent my own pictures and inside look into  a USA Christmas Eve service in the midst of a pandemic. 

My mom, former choir director of my hometown’s Marshall First UMC, was enlisted to consult with Pastor Bob Sabo and organist Jo Sanders to put together a Christmas Eve service.  Like my Luzhou Church, an in-person service was planned but then, due to increased virus cases, plans changed.  Unlike my Chinese church, however,  which will be having both in-person and virtual showings, Marshall First is going all virtual as strongly advised by our Illinois Great Rivers’ Conference bishop,  Bishop Beard.

Yesterday evening, all performers (my mom and I included) arrived early for a run-through before the final taping.  It was a 4-hour affair, with youth director James Southworth in charge of the production procedures, practice session and clockwork timing.  Masks, social distancing, staging strategies, disinfecting procedures for shared hand mics and where-are-your-marks were practiced to the point where we all felt comfortable with what to do, how to do and when to do.  

When it came time for the recording itself, with 3 volunteers manning the new cameras and sound-system, we felt confident of a successful virtual offering for December 24th.  

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By the time our evening ended at 8:30 p.m., with a “thumbs up” from James that the recording had stopped, we gave a HUGE sigh of relief. I couldn’t help but give a peek at the computer screen while our recording team checked to make absolutely sure they’d gotten it right.  

Wow!  It looked and sounded fantastic!  For a small-town church, it is impressive.  I will definitely be posting the link in the next entry for you all to enjoy as well.

While it might not have been the kind of Christmas Eve we’re all used to, I will say that as participants, my mom and I truly felt the spirit of this holy night was upon us.  I’m sure the others felt the same as well.

Until then, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your before-Christmas celebrations. 


About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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1 Response to Christmas Eve Service Preparations Underway: China and USA

  1. Kate says:

    My goodness…..the news from your area of China….darn. Glad the decision was to do a virtual service with limited seating. I remember attending Christmas Eve service in Fuyang and how many came to be a part. Though I have WeChat I don’t know how to find your church…. Am very pleased that your home service will be virtual….different, but safer. Vic has been doing the videoing of his church’s services in Crawfordsville…..they are having a offering at 1730-1800 this evening. We will watch from afar and at 1800 ring our bells from the front porch while taking a photo to share with my sister’s congregation in Wichita. Merry Christmas Eve, Connie! Your cards and notes have certainly helped to make this holiday season a much happier one while we are distant from all our family. Thanks, Kate

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