“Can you hear me okay?” Father David Wallace asks when he appears on the screen. “That’s been the soundtrack of 2020, hasn’t it? That and broken connections.”

The South Side priest doesn’t include uncertainty on his list, but it would not have been out of place.

Fittingly, in the fortnight since he spoke to the Glasgow Times about how Our Lady of Lourdes would adapt its Christmas celebrations this year, many of those plans have been chopped and changed by the latest twist in the coronavirus saga. 

This should be the time when thousands – many for their annual pilgrimage – come through the doors to sing, hug, cry, and rejoice: or, to put it another way, spend an hour less than two metres apart with friends and family. However, the bottom line is this won’t be a festive season like Father Wallace has come to know in his two decades in the city and it’s why he’s preparing himself for some heartbreaking conversations in the days ahead.

“One of the most difficult things I am really not looking forward to is people who turn up when we are over capacity,” Father Wallace, who leads the Cardonald church, says. “We will have to turn them away and that’s heartbreaking.

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“There’s something about the Christmas story [in this]. Mary and Jesus had to go to Bethlehem in order to register. You can’t come here unless you are registered.

“With the restricted numbers, not everyone is going to come in and that’s a huge thing in the run-up to Christmas.”

During our conversation, Father Wallace has resigned himself to making 50 worshippers per mass work in the busiest time of the year. However, the latest Scottish Government handbrake means only 20 people will be allowed in from Boxing Day. 

“From Christmas Eve through to Sunday we are offering nine different masses but that’s still only going to get around a third of the people we would normally get in,” Father Wallace says. “On an average weekend, we could get around 8/900 people. When you only have 50 [or 20] people at a time, it’s not possible to get everyone in.

“We want to get as many as possible but we have to be real about it. We’ll record one service without people there so there can be singing. 

“Christmas Eve is busier and at nighttime we’d have a Vigil Mass at 5pm, one at 7pm, and then Midnight Mass, which is normally held at 9pm now.

“We are talking about a full church with 5/600 people at each service. Then we’d have another two the next morning which would be jam packed and it’s well over 1500 people coming to church. It’s huge.”

You might expect there to be less demand this year given the circumstances, but Father Wallace says a list of the church’s mass times [again, for the original plan of 50] was “full within half an hour”. Like the “Boxing Day sales”, the 46-year-old adds, and he believes this is due in part to the fact worshippers missed out on the other major date in their calendar during the initial lockdown.

“There’s a natural response that a lot of people want to get to church at Christmas,” he adds. “It’s a special time, especially for families.

“The reality this year is we missed Easter altogether. That was only online. So there’s a desire for people to want to make up for that.

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“People have been incredibly generous. We are all saying things we thought we’d never have to say, but, they have responded to that so well. That’s been amazing.” 

Away from the tradition of Our Lady of Lourdes, it’s a similar story for one of the city’s newest churches in the West End. Christ Church Glasgow is a plant in Anniesland, boasting around 70 members, which grew out of its minister’s conservatory.

Unlike most, members won’t take part in a midnight service on Christmas Eve. Instead, they gathered in the Sundays in the run-up the big day. Like Father Wallace, Reverend Jonathan de Groot was overwhelmed by the response. 

“Certainly from what I have access to and can see a lot of those on the list are people I don’t know, which means they have been invited to come along,” he says, also speaking earlier this month. “The response of non-church people is far greater this year than it was last year.

“This year has made people really think about what matters in life and what’s important. There’s been mental health issues, people losing jobs, and so on. That’s made people realise that we are not in control like we thought we were. We realised we weren’t the captains of our soul. That’s been a humbling thing for so many people.

Glasgow Times: Jonathan de Groot has also adapted his worship for a year like no other Jonathan de Groot has also adapted his worship for a year like no other

“People have questions. They are looking for answers and just wondering about life and purpose. 

READ MORE: Glasgow's places of worship adapt for life with Covid-19

“It probably is an advantage for the church that a lot of social things – like the cinema or concert – are still not allowed and people are still a little fed up being inside.”

Another benefit the Free Church of Scotland community has found is by the very nature of its design. 

When the world shut down during lockdown and places of worship had to adapt, Christ Church, which now has use of the Brethren Hall on Crow Road, was well placed and has been able to use this knowhow in its festive celebrations.

“We launched in September 2019 and we were just growing when covid hit,” Rev de Groot, who is also Partick Thistle’s chaplain, adds. 

“As a way of connecting people in church, we had these groups called community groups. We had two of them on the go at the time and when lockdown hit we took everyone and multiplied the groups from two to four and we started to meet online.

"When we could meet up again in the autumn, people were desperate to see one another, desperate to meet-up, and not be stuck in the same building again.

“We decided that the online stuff had to continue as that’s how everyone has to connect these days. We turned from no meeting, to meeting online, to a hybrid model. We have in-person worship but we also livestream it so people who can’t be there are still part of it.

Glasgow Times: Christ Church Glasgow have use of the Brethren Hall on Crow Road Christ Church Glasgow have use of the Brethren Hall on Crow Road

“The livestream has meant we have had a lot more people meeting and watching our worship. We adapted and our flexibility meant we could.”

Christ Church will next meet on Sunday and Rev. de Groot, 44, jokes there’s a good reason he’s opted against a Christmas Eve recording.

“Some people have said to me: ‘Why don’t you just record something from your house as a Midnight Service?’” Rev de Groot laughs. “Well, if people aren’t too keen to come on a Sunday throughout the year, I don’t think they are going to tune into me live on Christmas Eve!”