• <p>Santa and Mrs. Claus speak to children through a car window during a drive-through visit with Santa Claus Dec. 5 at Canandaigua&rsquo;s St. Mary School. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)  </p>

    Santa and Mrs. Claus speak to children through a car window during a drive-through visit with Santa Claus Dec. 5 at Canandaigua’s St. Mary School. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Rochester Diocese parishes offer reimagined Advent initiatives

Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    12.14.2020
Category: Advent


Deacon Claude Lester has planned an Amazing Advent Adventure, and it’s not too late for you to come along for the journey.

“Advent always seems to sneak up on families, and we can miss out on celebrating a season unique to the preparation for Christmas instead as seeing this time as an extension of the celebration even before it happens,” noted Deacon Lester, coordinator of sacramental ministry and social ministry for St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and East Bloomfield. “If we don’t celebrate the uniqueness of the Advent season, I think we miss out on some of the depth of meaning that Christmas Day has.”

In order to help parishioners navigate through the Advent season while fully experiencing all it has to offer, Deacon Lester created the 2020 Amazing Advent Adventure, an online resource filled with everything from videos and patterns to help families create their own Advent wreaths, Jesse trees and Nativity scenes, to reflections on the weekly Gospel readings and videos about the lives of the saints celebrated during the Advent season, such as St. Nicholas and St. Juan Diego. It also includes a list of possible actions families could choose to take during Advent, such as making cards for nursing-home residents, collecting loose change to donate and baking Christmas cookies.

This entire Advent journey may be taken from home, making the initiative a safe option during this time of pandemic, with many restrictions placed on public gatherings in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Deacon Lester did not create this project because of the pandemic, however. Rather, the current pandemic situation gave him the nudge he needed to take action on a project he’d been contemplating for years.

The pandemic has inspired a number of other parishes in the Diocese of Rochester to offer new and creative ways for families to experience the Advent season without risking exposure to COVID-19.

Dozens of youth-group members from St. Pius Tenth Parish in Chili, for example, sang Christmas carols at a local nursing home on Dec. 6. Rather than caroling as a group inside the home, however, the teens sang from the patio, where residents were able to hear and see them from their windows, noted Barb Legere, youth minister. They also took turns singing in small groups so they were able to keep a safe distance between each caroler.

St. Mary School in Canandaigua, meanwhile, hosted a drive-through visit with Santa Dec. 5 instead of a traditional breakfast with Santa. Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community in Penn Yan, Naples and Prattsburgh offered children the chance to visit with and learn about St. Nicholas via Zoom Dec. 6. And Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Hornell rented a theater at the Hornell Cinema and offered faith-formation students and their families the opportunity to watch the Christmas classic “Home Alone” together while still maintaining an appropriate social distance.

Fairport’s Church of the Resurrection and Church of the Assumption scheduled a full slate of pandemic-friendly Advent activities. Most are taking place either online or outdoors, as is the case with a Dec. 15 Cocoa Candlewalk to celebrate Christ’s birth. Those who sign up to participate in the walk will receive hot chocolate and candy canes, explore Jesus’ ancestry while walking an outdoor path lit by luminaria and pick up a Jesse tree activity pack.

This year, St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Waterloo and Seneca Falls traded in its popular annual Advent By Candlelight event, which was an evening of prayer and spiritual renewal for women, for a new online initiative. Each week during Advent, parish families are asked to send in a photo of the Advent wreaths in their homes, with the appropriate number of lit candles, and the photos are used to create a slideshow, set to instrumental Christmas music, and posted on the parish’s website and Facebook page. This initiative provides a way to unite parishioners around “a cause greater than COVID,” noted Pamela Kane, one of the parish’s catechetical leaders.

“The more we can do to bring about that sense of a church family is so important, now more than ever,” she said, noting that parishioners also will be asked to send in photos of their creches, and of themselves participating in Christmas Mass from their homes, if they choose to do so.

St. Benedict parishioners, meanwhile, are being asked to record short videos of themselves doing something Christmas-related, whether it be telling Christmas jokes, sharing favorite memories, teaching someone how to decorate cookies, acting out the Nativity, or anything in between. The resulting videos will be compiled into a Parish Family 2020 Christmas Video Scrapbook, which will “warm hearts and make connections and let us feel good about who we are and how we celebrate,” Deacon Lester explained.

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