North Miami Avenue Church of God celebrating Christmas virtually

The North Miami Avenue Church of God would be normally filled this time of year with families gathered for the different events and services that mark the season.

But the pandemic has stopped almost all of that, leaving many younger members of the Pentecostal church at 14250 N. Miami Ave. in the Golden Glades neighborhood feeling disconnected on what would be some of the religion’s holiest days.

Though the church does allow limited in-person attendance, many younger people have decided to attend via Zoom or Facebook Live.

Still, Donavan Ferguson, a student at Miami-Dade College who’s been attending the church since he was 13 years old, said the remote service lacks the full experience.

“Online has been a bit difficult due to the fact that it just feels like watching television,” he said. “In person you are more likely to pay attention unlike at home where there are many distractions, it takes away from the message.”

Mickalia Paisley, 23, who’s been raised in the church since the age of 7, said online attendance is convenient – as long as the internet is stable.

“I’ve come to enjoy the way that church is more accessible and doesn’t require the effort of getting ready,” she said. “But I also feel like the virtual worship experience is lacking. I don’t feel as connected as I would’ve if I was there in person. I feel like I miss out on the actual experience I once felt.”

Things are just different, she said.

“There isn’t that Pentecostal praise that I’m used to,” said Paisley. “No church ladies handing out candy, no hugs, no holding hands to pray, no laying of hands, all of these things play a role in the worship experience I’m accustomed to.”

Despite the various hardships the church has experienced, Youth Pastor Wilkinson Raymonvil said it has required them to improve their social media presence.

“Through our social media platforms, we’ve been able to communicate the gospel on a greater scale. Even after we begin to return to a sense of normalcy as a church, we’ve discussed how we can maintain our social media presence and cater to new listeners,” he said.

But, he acknowledged, they have had to change how they do things in response.

“We’ve had to assess how we can revamp our holiday events to allow members to celebrate in giving, while still keeping our community safe,” said Raymonvil.

After experiencing such a rough transition some members of the church are still hopeful for a return to normalcy while others are more hesitant towards what a new normal would be like.

Danielle Smith, a long-time church member, said that in the event that churches are able to resume worship at full capacity she would consider the reactions of other people who decided to return.

“I would wait to see how everyone’s experience back to church is,” she said. “I’d give it some time and if there are no issues then I’d definitely go back.”

Lilieth Pommells, who’s been a member for over 15 years, shared a similar sentiment.

“Returning to church will be a new experience because I’ve practiced the habit of following CDC guidelines over these past months,” she said. “Mentally, social distancing has become my new normal and even if it isn’t required, I’d still be conscious of how close I am to others.”

Deniel Dookan is a senior at Florida International University majoring in broadcast media with a minor in psychology. She aspires to become a news anchor in South Florida.