Riding the wave of communal devotions creatively reimagined for the COVID-19 era, the staff at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton have put their heads together to come up with a safe, distanced and interactive Advent activity: outdoor Stations of the Nativity.
The 14 stations, which are located around the perimeter of the church parking lot on Howard Avenue in New Berlin, weave scriptural passages, narration, and prayer, and can be prayed from the safety of one’s car, by walking around or even while at home.
The idea was initially suggested by Linda Halverson, director of music and worship at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, when she learned about the Stations of the Nativity at a meeting of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Musicians’ Association.
Pastoral Minister Sue Switalski was immediately interested in Halverson’s suggestion. “We had a very successful outdoor Stations of the Cross for Lent because of the pandemic. They were so fruitful that we kept them up probably through June and, even when we took them down, people were disappointed,” she said. “We wanted to bring something like that back for Advent, but with a different kind of take on it.”
Staff and volunteers got to work compiling scriptural passages and writing reflections for each station and assembling the outdoor signs in the church parking lot. Though there are several different versions of the Stations of the Nativity that are in use, the St. Elizabeth team decided to create their own.
“We felt it was important that it’s kind of told in real time, and each station has a Scriptural reference — a specific point in the Nativity story where we are quoting scripture,” explained Switalski.
Stations include the Annunciation and the Visitation, as well as exploring the roles of Joseph and John the Baptist in the coming of the Messiah.
The team wanted to make the devotions accessible from home for parishioners who would be unable to venture out, so the stations were recorded, with musical accompaniment provided by Halverson and scriptural passages read by lector Joe Kopinski, before being uploaded to the parish YouTube channel. The video is also accessible via the parish’s website or with a smartphone, by scanning the QR code displayed on the welcome sign in the parking lot.
“One of our parishioners told us they listened to it while they put up their Christmas tree,” said Switalski.
The stations are open from dawn until dusk, now through the Baptism of the Lord (Jan. 10). The response has already been enthusiastic, said Halverson. “Every time I’ve gone from my parking lot and back, I’ve always seen someone outside, whether it’s a family in their van or someone walking their dogs,” she said.
Other parishes have reached out to inquire if they can link to the YouTube channel on their own websites. “What’s exciting is that when we share things like this, our parishioners then seem to share that with others, and that empowers them to help others, which is our whole mission statement,” said Halverson. “It goes way beyond our experience here at Seton.”
“I think any time we create, as ministers, a prayer experience for people, our hope is always that they cultivate a deeper relationship with Christ, that they are able to enter in in some way to pray and be closer this Advent season to him, so that at Christmas we can celebrate the incredible gift that God gave us through Christ,” said Switalski. “Really, that’s our message here at Seton, as lay ministers — how can we help you enter in, at a time when a lot of you can’t physically be in our building? How can we cultivate that relationship?”
There are already plans in place for another outdoor Stations of the Cross this coming Lent, she added.
“We might do this even beyond the pandemic. There are many frequencies to Christ and if we can provide one frequency that people can tune into, we’re happy to do it.”
For more information about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Stations of the Nativity, visit mystelizabeth.com/advent.