Cathedral of Saint John the Divine prepares for online Christmas services amid COVID spike

Coronavirus update for NYC

CeFaan Kim Image
Thursday, December 23, 2021
Saint John the Divine prepares for online Christmas amid COVID spike
CeFaan Kim has more on the church's decision to move to virtual Christmas services.

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, Manhattan (WABC) -- As local churches struggle this week ahead of Christmas, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine has already decided to move services online.

Less than two weeks ago, there was a choir, an orchestra and an in-person congregation to soak in the Joy of Christmas.

But things have changed after they announced on Monday that Christmas Eve and Christmas services will be virtual.

"Throughout the pandemic we have tended to be rather cautious," said Father Patrick Malloy. "This is of course the largest church in the United States. And normally for our late service on Christmas Eve we completely fill this place. Standing room only, I would say we get between 2,500 and 3,000 people here."

But this year subtract the congregation from the equation. There will however be 80 musicians and choir.

It will be different even than last Christmas when in a show of solidarity, nobody was inside the cathedral.

"We were all in our homes, we decided at the cathedral that since people couldn't come here then neither would the clergy nor the musicians," Malloy said.

Aside from the challenge of video and lighting and how to present the service in a visually aesthetic way, the bigger challenge is the acoustics.

The ceiling is 177 feet high, and don't forget that song and music translate differently in person versus through a computer screen.

"If we have two violins, two string players playing in tandem very close, their musical energy combines and then moves out," said interim Director of Production Brendon Boyd. "When they're separated that doesn't necessarily combine where it should, or it does, but it's way up above us and we hear it echo."

The other challenge is executing the production in just a few days.

And even the short run up to the service has been further shortened by COVID.

"I try to stretch it out like have a setup day and then come back and do a rehearsal day and then do a show day, but in this instance, we really wanted to minimize exposure so we cut the musician rehearsals out of it," Boyd said.

But like the rest of the city... Saint John the Divine has become well-versed at adapting to the moment. They'll be ready -- with no divine intervention necessary.

WATCH: Eyewitness News Special | Holiday Alert: Omicron Surge

Joe Torres and Sandra Bookman co-host an Eyewitness News special presentation, 'Holiday Alert: Omicron Surge.'
national geographic covid newsletter sign up


Omicron variant symptoms: what to know even if you are vaccinated

New York City COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

New Jersey COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on coronavirus

Submit a News Tip or Question