Church-goers are Finding New Ways to Worship
“We will make it work. Because in the end, God is in control,” said Pastor Andy Schroer of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Edna.
With all the uncertainty going on in the world, Pastor Schroer knows God still has a plan. Schools all over Jackson County are closed and businesses have either closed or changed the way they do business in order to accommodate people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, local churches have also had to take a new approach unlike anything they would have ever believed.
“We’ve had to change pretty much everything,” Pastor Schroer said. “The biggest change is suspending our worship services, which is something we thought we’d never have to do.
“So we’ve been finding ways to maintain God’s words using social distancing. Were going live through Facebook and YouTube and hopefully we can do Bible classes through the Zoom app. I also did Bible study at The Dugger House. The residents there can sit on the porch and I’m on the sidewalk below. I can give them Bible class and still keep them safe.”
In Ganado, Father Kirby Hlavaty of Assumption Catholic Church is having a hard time dealing with delivering the word of God without a live congregation.
“It is very strange not having congregations,” said Father Hlavaty. “The body of the church, the people, are not coming. We still have services, but we are celebrating Mass without a congregation. It is awkward.
“We are live-streaming Sunday Mass from our Facebook page. So people can logon and see my face and see the empty church and get a sense of being together, but in a virtual way.
“There is no way to see if the sermon is resonating with people. There is no feed back. Are they nodding off or nodding in agreement, or are they perplexed or challenged by the gospel? I miss my congregation. I’m not connected with them in a real way, only in the virtual way.”
For both men, not having people in the church is only part of the strangeness of this ‘new normal’ everyone is having to deal with. One big concern is collecting offerings with no congregation at the church.
“The (situation with the offering) is a tough one for us as a church,” Pastor Schroer said. “We don’t want to push, but it is a reality we have to keep them going. We have been getting offerings through mail or through an app online. Thankfully our church has thought ahead and we have an emergency fund. The situation is something we have thought about. But people have been sending in offerings pretty well.”
“We live off of people’s charity and we pass it on to others,” Father Hlavaty said. “Some people have dropped off or mailed their offerings, and the Diocese in Victoria has set up a contribution for people to be able to pay. We use it to do work for the poor and needy but it is hard to do that while in isolation. It’s hard to get that money back out in the community.”
Being compelled to implement new approaches has at least inspired some new opportunities for churches that may last well beyond the time when the COVID-19 pandemic clears up. “It has been difficult on a personal level not being able to see people,” Pastor Schroer continued. “It has been strange and it has been a big learning curve with the technology. But we have some very talented people that have helped us work with this and, once everything is back to normal, we will probably keep providing the services online, so that will probably stick. There are a lot of blessings that God will bring us. Now that we are set up digitally, we are able to share the comfort of God’s word with people that may never have come or shown up at our church.”
Although, in some cases, the ‘old’ ways will have to return.
“Continuing to live-stream from our Facebook page is possible, but we will always go back to having Mass live in person,” Father Hlavaty said. “You can’t receive the sacred sacrament unless you are there at the church. We will have people back in the church but some of the education pieces and some of the outreach pieces, we can keep. This did show us that we probably need to get better at mainting our website because it is a great tool to get information out there.”
Facing new challenges and moving on is something people all over are having to do but, once things return to normal, everyone will rejoice and many of them will rejoice at the church.
“This (social distancing) has changed everything,” said Pastor Schroer. “This is uncharted waters. That is why it is so hard for everyone. We aren’t in hurricane mode. This is a tension that is like a slow drip. It’s a constant strain that is on all of us, that is kind of sitting there. How do we live our lives right now? Nothing can replace joining together with fellow Christians but for now this is what we have.”