Bay-Area houses of worship are creating new ways to support and inspire their members while COVID-related travel and gathering restrictions are in place.
Pastors say the work of churches is more important than ever as congregants face the fear, anxiety and financial stress that comes with the statewide business shutdown.
“My biggest concern is that people will get sick… I want to do anything I can to keep it from spreading,” said Stacy Craig, pastor of Ashland’s Chequamegon Unitarial Universalist Fellowship. “My second biggest concern is that people will feel they are all alone right now. Social isolation has really devastating effects on our health. I have experienced so many gestures of kindness and compassion this past week that I’m so grateful to be in this community.”
Craig’s church has moved its services online to ensure vital connections are maintained.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Ashland also has begun conducting services online, called Worship in written word. It is sent to members’ emails on Sunday mornings and includes an invocation, children’s message, prayer of the day, sermon, hymn and benediction. The church is streaming an online soup and Bible study every Wednesday 12:30 p.m. using the online video chat service Zoom.
“Our concern in the COVID-19 journey is that we do not want the community or our congregation members to feel alone or isolated,” congregation member Keith Tviet and the Rev. Jeff Giles said in an email to the Daily Press. “We have encouraged members to reach out to their neighbors, calling people, talking face-to-face in safe distances, not only church members, but all in our community. We are working on finding ways to reach out to those who have limited Internet access.”
That can be a real problem for congregations that draw from rural areas and households without the resources to have online services. But pastors said their first responsibility is keeping people safe, and online services offer the best compromise between safety and spirituality.
Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Ashland is using the web to circulate, weekly bulletins, home-learning packets and online services. The diocese ordered all churches to close their doors about a week before Evers’ order took effect, and the Ashland church is using both new and old-school technology to reach its members.
“As Catholics, we believe in our connection of spiritual communion, which connects us all with God and with each other. Father Jerome’s celebration of Mass each day is a celebration that we can all spiritually connect with, join in, participate in and pray for those in need — even if we are in our own homes,” Ric Johnson, parish business administrator, said. “We broadcast this daily Mass on our local Catholic radio station, WWMD, 95.3 FM, at 9 a.m. each morning. And the Mass is also videotaped and posted online on our website.”
As pastors are wont to do, Craig and her peers are trying to identify the good that is being done during this trying time and focus on it rather than the hardships everyone is experiencing.
“The social distancing response to COVID-19 is a response of sacrificing personal freedom, wealth, and opportunities for the good of the whole,” said Craig. “And while this is happening, air quality is improving in dozens of cities as traffic ceases… We are at a time when we all need to come together to heal many things in our world. As we emerge from this crisis, my hope is that we can look at the habits we are developing to care for each other and use these to address the urgency of the climate crisis that is also upon us.”
And underlying all the work being done, online or via radio and email, pastors are focused on one thing:
“It is very important in these difficult and scary times to remember that as Christian Catholics, we believe that God is love and that he asks us to help and serve each other. That is what we are called to do,” said Johnson.