How will congregations observe Epiphany in the year of COVID-19?

With many churches worshipping remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, church leaders have come up with some creative approaches for distributing Star Words as a way of celebrating Epiphany. Star Words is an Epiphany spiritual practice some congregations have adopted — with each person given a word in early January they are encouraged to pay attention to throughout the year, “a lens through which to view God at work in the world,” as one pastor put it.

Some of ideas that church leaders shared on social media:

  • Email congregants a list of Star Words and let each person choose a word. Or, for those willing to be more labor intensive, email or text each person a word.
  • Come up with a list of 31 words – one for each day of the month – and share the list. The day of each person’s birthday will determine what word that person gets.
  • Mail out the Star Words, after praying over each one.
  • Deliver a bag to each household with communion elements for Epiphany Sunday and a Star Word for each person in the household.
  • Hand them out at a drive-through event.
  • Use an online inspirational “My Word of the Year Generator” created by Jen Fulwilder, a comedian and podcast host. (She also has a “My Saint’s Name Generator.”)
  • Ask each person from the congregation to pick a number between 1 and 100. Then use this word list from First Lutheran Church, San Marcos, to assign a word from that number.
  • Use an Excel spreadsheet to come up with a numbered list of words. During Zoom worship, each person can enter a number into the chat.

Others are celebrating Epiphany in different ways.

Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is throwing a Zoom party — inviting congregants to participate in what they’re calling “Give Us Your Best Joke” — or to showcase a talent in 30 seconds or share a hope for 2021.

Some Presbyterian congregations also are offering virtual Watch Night services to mark the end of this long, difficult pandemic year and the start of 2021.  Presbyterian Church of St. Albans in New York state, for example, is holding an online Watch Night service at 10:30 p.m. EST on Dec. 31 — asking congregants to send in photos of milestone events (births, graduations, healing from illness or injury, major birthdays and more) and testimonials that will be shared during the service.

And United Presbyterian Church of Cortland, New York, which had to postpone its outdoor Christmas Eve gathering because of bad weather, is planning an outdoor Watch Night service with fire pits and treats — “a little Christmas Eve, a little New Year’s, a little Epiphany,” in keeping with the improvisational nature of this wild pandemic year.