Normally around this time, I get calls or emails from many of the 75 churches listed in the Chronotype’s church directory asking to update their information to summer hours. Many discontinue Sunday school until the school year resumes. Since the pandemic began, just a few churches have requested directory changes in an effort to share how the public can find them via livestream, Zoom or radio airwaves. Many others have not wanted to change their standard operating procedures, keeping their information as is and hoping to get back to normal as soon as possible.
In the meantime, churches have opened wide their virtual church doors.
I’ve never been a church hopper. I went to one church from birth to marriage and to another since then. But I must confess I’ve been a virtual church hopper since the pandemic began. I’ve observed that one of the Baptist pastors prefers a simple, black background, while the Methodist pastor has had flowers, or candles and crosses, as backdrops for the music and message. On Syttendai Mai, my roots prompted me to visit the Chetek Lutheran Church, where they blend faith and heritage with music and message including Norwegian songs and prayers although their Scandinavian potluck had to be cancelled. (A virtual piece of lefse is just not as tasty.) I’ve also tuned in to several services from Bethany Lutheran and Red Cedar on the kitchen radio while making muffins for Sunday morning breakfast. I’ve stuck my head in and virtually visited a few Cameron churches as well.
Not wanting to participate in “The Brady Bunch” boxes via Zoom, most regularly my husband and I have listened to services and taken communion led by his nephew, who is pastor of a church in Concord, N.C., through YouTube. We checked in on a Good Friday service by another nephew and an Easter service by his brother-in-law at other churches also in North Carolina. My sister in the Philippines and I in Barron have joined in on services—both in their home and church parking lot—led by my niece’s husband, who is a pastor in Delano, Minn.
It’s been fun to experience all the similarities and differences in music and messages. I’m all for ecumenical gatherings. I love joining my faith in prayer and song with others across the denominations. On May 2, 2019, I took a photo of 10 pastors in the Rice Lake Area Ministerial Association who jointly participated in a National Day of Prayer hosted by Red Cedar Church. This year’s May 7 event could not be held in person, so the association posted a link on YouTube and other local channels to connect with the faithful in the comfort of our homes. This group of pastors deserve our thanks for sharing their faith and showing unity at such a time as this.
As the pandemic was just beginning, I wrote about Pastor John Miels of St. Paul Lutheran, Church of Cumberland who stood out in the cold on March 22 to lead a service to members gathered in the warmth of their vehicles in the church parking lot. After that, even parking lot crowds were prohibited for awhile, then okayed once again. Since then pastors have had more time to formulate new and unique ways to reach out. Two pastors are using the Stardust Drive-In theater for their services. Some churches have outdoor pavilions, chapels or benches that will be used more than in the past. Many are doing multiple, smaller, spaced out gatherings.
My husband’s niece is on the worship team at a church in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It has put out a virtual tour, showing how door handles will not have to be touched from entrance to exit and how socially-distanced seating and every other precaution has been taken.
The shaking of hands and passing of offering plates may have become a thing of the past, but hospitality and financial giving are needed now more than ever.
Shepherds are traversing new terrain this spring and summer while trying to get their flocks to follow. Some have cautiously opened their gates; others are proceeding more slowly; none wanting to lose even one sheep.