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Step into Christmas Eve

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | December 24, 2020 1:08 AM

Stepping inside Trinity Lutheran Church, visitors will be whisked away to a far off place.

Colorful stars lead the way through the "Journey to Bethlehem," 10 stations that tell the story of Christmas. It begins with the prophecy of God's plans to send love to the world in the form of a child, and concludes with the birth of that child in a humble stable and the light that followed.

This is the first year Trinity Lutheran has organized the event, and the reason is simple: To celebrate the season.

"Celebrating the gift that we’ve been given," youth and family ministry director Penny Weiss said Wednesday. "We’re called to do that, and we’re not only called to do that when times are easy and we can do our traditional things, but to it when things are difficult and we have to think outside the box.

“God calls us to do things, and we learn and we can experience ways different than we’ve done it in the past,” Weiss continued. "We love our traditions, but occasionally, to add onto those traditions is wonderful, looking at this as an opportunity."

COVID-19 has forced churches to adapt to social distancing and other restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus. Trinity is one of few hosting interactive events where people are welcome to visit and have an experience in person.

Pastor Dan Forsgren said Trinity could have chosen to do just a pre-recorded Christmas Eve service, which is also available, but that didn't feel like enough.

"It didn’t seem like it was going to capture what part of our call is here, to share the message of God’s love and God’s light," Forsgren said. "What better time than Christmas to share that? This has been a heck of a year, and I think people need something, they want something.

"We want people to be safe and we want people to experience the story of Christ’s birth,” he said. "It’s the story of God’s great love for his children, and I think we’re going to do that."

The journey has been thoughtfully planned, as groups will be staggered and move in pods to maintain social distancing.

Christ the King Lutheran Church is also thinking outside the box, as well as outside the building. Big white tents are up, the fire bowl is filled with wood and a homemade wooden stable to house live animals has been installed in the parking lot to provide a special Christmas Eve experience for the community.

"We wanted to provide opportunities outside so we don't have the same restrictions we do inside," Christ the King's executive director of ministries Mike Haas said. "This is for people to come and feel comfortable and be able to experience a nice Christmas event. It is open to anyone."

Christ the King will host the family Christmas stable experience at 11:30 a.m. today, featuring an outdoor service in song and worship. A hot dog lunch will be served.

"The gospel of Matthew calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, so we are called to reach out to our community and our neighborhood and to serve them in any capacity they need," Haas said.

"It brings joy," he continued. "Happiness is one of those things that is very temporary, and kind of a worldly condition. But joy, true joy, is what I seek unto my heart and the heart of this congregation, and when we’re able to reach out and help, that is the joy that lasts."

Christ the King, 1700 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Coeur d'Alene, will also host 4 and 6 p.m. "Candlelight at the Stable" experiences, outdoors with caroling. At 8:30 p.m., "A Service of Carols and Candlelight" will be held inside the sanctuary with candles and Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Trinity's “open house" is between 2 and 5 p.m. today.​ A pre-recorded video worship will be available on Trinity's website, www.trinitylutherancda.org, for those preferring to worship from home.

​At 11 p.m., a brief contemplative worship service will be offered in person. Trinity is at 812 N. Fifth St., Coeur d'Alene.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Pastor Dan Forsgren, right, and youth and family ministry director Penny Weiss describe "The Angel Visits Joseph," one of the stations in the "Journey to Bethlehem" in Trinity Lutheran Church. The church is hosting the free Christmas Eve event from 2 to 5 p.m. today, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Mike Haas, executive director of ministries at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Coeur d'Alene, sweeps hay by a stable in the parking lot Wednesday as he and his team prepare for live outdoor Christmas Eve services starting at 11 a.m. today. "All are welcome, and it's open to anyone," Haas said.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

A big Christmas star "shines" above one of the stations in the "Journey to Bethlehem" experience in Trinity Lutheran Church as director of youth and family ministry Penny Weiss, far right, and Pastor Dan Forsgren give a preview on Wednesday. The experience is free and happening from 2 to 5 p.m. today.