Vail Valley churches take different approaches to Christmas services |

Vail Valley churches take different approaches to Christmas services

But faith leaders say the Christmas message remains timeless

Some Eagle County parishes are forgoing in-person Christmas Eve services in favor of virtual ones this year, while other congregations are using a reservation system to limit crowds. Others are taking a hybrid approach.
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In a time of great darkness, faith leaders in Eagle County say the Christmas message is needed more than ever.

“The message this year is not different at all,” said Rev. Brooks Keith, the priest at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, which worships at the interfaith chapels in Vail, Beaver Creek and Edwards. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

While the message of hope is timeless, Christmas Eve services at parishes across Eagle County will certainly look different this year as the coronavirus continues to limit the size of indoor gatherings.

Some parishes are forgoing in-person services in favor of virtual ones. Other congregations with larger facilities, like the Vail Church in Avon, are using a reservation system to limit crowds. Others are taking a hybrid approach.

Instead of its traditional Christmas pageant, Keith said his parish is going to have a drive-up event at 1:30 in the afternoon Thursday in front of the Edwards chapel that he called “a taste of Christmas.”

Worshippers are encouraged to bring warm clothes and hot cocoa.

“We’re going to have some fun,” he said. “We’re going to laugh and tell stories. It will be in-person but outside and socially distanced.”

Keith will also be doing a virtual livestream at 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve from the Beaver Creek Chapel that will look similar to Christmas Eve Services of years past, without crowds, of course. The broadcast will be available on YouTube for those who miss it live.

“I might suggest that the greatest gift isn’t what’s under the tree, it’s the people standing right next to me,” Keith said. “I think our connections this year, our family connections, our church connections, our community connections, are super important. These people matter to me. And we need to matter to each other.”

An impossible math problem

Rev. Tim Wilbanks of Covenant Presbyterian, which also worships in the interfaith chapels in Vail and Beaver Creek, said holding traditional in-person services this year was an all-but-impossible math problem, given current public health guidelines. In years past, some of those services drew as many as 600 worshippers.

“Since we’re limited to about 60 people at one time, it physically doesn’t work,” Wilbanks said.

Churches in the Vail Valley will still celebrate Christmas this year, of course. But chapels won’t be full, and some churches are taking their celebrations to the internet.

As an alternative, the church came up with a solution for socially distanced, in-person “walk-through” communion services at both chapels that will deliver the Christmas message to those who want to partake.

The first will take place at the Beaver Creek chapel at 3 p.m., followed by a service in Vail at 5:30 p.m. Visitors can show up and walk through the chapels to receive communion and a short blessing, and they’ll be greeted by Christmas music inside.

“No one is sitting down,” Wilbanks said. “A family can be in and out in under five minutes.”

For those seeking a more traditional service, Wilbanks will also be doing two virtual services on Christmas Eve that will be broadcast over the internet as well as on the local airwaves on 101.7 Ski Country FM — a first for Wilbanks in a year full of them. The stream for the services can be found at

Trinity Church in Edwards is among the parishes in the valley that will be holding in-person, indoor candlelight services, with modifications. Reservations will be required. Interested worshippers can sign up at the church’s website

The parish will hold services at its Edwards campus at 5:30 and 7 p.m., followed by a 9 p.m. service at the Beaver Creek Chapel.

Socially-distant spaces

“We have our rooms set up to fully accommodate the social distancing requirements,” said Rev. Ethan Moore. “This year things are different in that some of our musicians are not able to participate due to health safety concerns. Normally, these are our biggest and most beloved gatherings of the year, all standing room only, but this year we are expecting our crowds to be quite smaller as many people are choosing to stay home.”

Moore said there will also be a new, “old-fashioned” outdoors candlelight service at 4:30 p.m. at the Edwards campus.

“Anyone is welcome. The services will also be a little shorter and simpler than most years,” he said. “Our focus isn’t on a big Christmas Eve performance, but on a peaceful reflection of the hope of Jesus in this very difficult time.”

Keith said the Advent season and Christmas Eve services are typically among the most harried times of the year for local faith leaders, outside of Holy Week and Easter, but given everything that has gone on in 2020, he can’t wait for a return to that hectic normalcy in the future.

“The church has ben through this before,” he said. “In that sense, the message is always appropriate. It’s always timely. Christmas always comes a the right time. The message is not at all different, but how we’re delivering it is extremely different.”

Keith said he plans to channel another Christmas story, from Dickens, reflecting on the past, the present and the future.

““We may be apart, but we are never alone,” he said. “I want to convey that so strongly this year.”

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