Local churches are responding to COVID-19 concerns by canceling events, moving others online and looking for creative solutions in order to continue offering services while social distancing.
Now, many of these establishments have turned to technology and online tools as a means to reach local parishioners, including with their weekly Sunday services.
“For us the migration to all-digital meant thousands meeting for services in single locations to one church meeting in literally thousands and thousands of locations online,” Lutheran Church of Hope Executive Minister of Campus Network and Development Dr. Bill Withers said. “So, while buildings no longer host ministries for the time being, most all of those same ministries are now digital and accessible to all.”
In addition to Sunday services, religious leaders are continuously working to provide local members with content and programming, whether that be Bible readings, videos, or connecting via social media. For example, Withers said that the Lutheran Church of Hope just recently created new digital content, such as a “90 Seconds of Hope” daily devotional, the “Pastor Mike Drop” podcast and a special worship called Hope LIVE.
“As you can imagine, our people are working tirelessly in very challenging circumstances to continue to have content and programming for everyone, all while practicing ‘social distancing’ ourselves in providing it,” Withers said.
Pastor Jessica Wietzke of the Grimes First Presbyterian Church has also posted daily reflections and prayers on Facebook and the church website. However, with over 60 percent of her church’s population over the age of 60, staying connected with social media can at times be rather challenging.
“We have younger people picking up groceries for older people and dropping them outside their front door, [and] our deacons, elders and staff will call almost every member each month to connect,” Wietzke said. “It's easy to think that we, like a lot of employers, don't have a lot on our hands since we don't have worship or programs. But in fact we're busier, trying to respond creatively to a situation that changes very quickly.”
Church outreach programs have also experienced similar adjustments, whether it be food pantries, fundraisers, or hosting local groups such as the Girl Scouts. Many of these events and programs have had to be either canceled or postponed, while others, such as the mobile food pantry at New Hope Church in Adel, have revamped their operations in order to protect volunteers while still meeting the needs of local families.
“To close this down would hurt several families who need this service,” Lead Pastor Dr. Ryan Whitson of New Hope Church in Adel said. “When people are scared or stressed, such as in a time like this, it is natural and important to gather with others for comfort, support and encouragement. Yet, this is exactly what people are not able to do. This makes the coronavirus pandemic challenging.”
While some religious organizations have worked to sanitize and clean their buildings in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, each establishment is also looking forward to the day when they can resume a normal calendar of events and activities. Lutheran Church of Hope senior pastor Mike Housholder often reminds his congregation that “The darkness is real, but so is the light.” Pastor Jessica Wietzke also said that when all else is said and done, the meaning of church is more than just a building.
“It’s also a good reminder that the church at the end of the day isn't just a building. We love and miss being in our building. But the church is still the church,” Wietzke said.