LOCAL CHURCHES GOING TO ONLINE SERVICES DURING VIRUS SHUTDOWN
By LORETTA FULTON
Imagine Jo Bright’s surprise when she got on her computer, clicked a few times, and landed at the right spot.
“Cliff just jumped up right in front of me!” Bright exclaimed. “I was so happy to see him.”
Cliff Stewart is pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church. Bright, 95, was so impressed and happy to see her church service, even online, that she emailed Stewart thanking him and the church.
“Thanks to you and all the others giving a perfect service,” she wrote. “We have faith that God is still in control in our world.”
First Central Presbyterian doesn’t normally have a live online worship presence. But these aren’t normal times. First Central and many other churches are learning the effectiveness of streaming
services live during these unusual times of getting by during the coronavirus crisis. Most houses of worship everywhere are closed for the foreseeable future, including Holy Week and Easter.
In his March 22 sermon, Stewart offered words befitting a time of crisis. People are afraid and while “there is no pill that will dissolve our fears,” Stewart said, there is an appropriate response.
“Is it possible that an antidote to fear is the kindness that God has put deep within our hearts? Stewart asked. “Can a kind word, a kind action help a fearful terrified person breathe again?
Stewart said in an email he has been amazed at the response he has received to the online service, which can be accessed at www.fcpc.net. He even got an email from a friend, Sandy Smith, he hadn’t seen in 40 years.
“Hi, Cliff! I enjoyed seeing you in worship this morning,” Smith wrote. “One of the small blessings in this pandemic is discovering I can join worship services anywhere I choose in the country.”
Other pastors in town are reporting similar grateful responses. Many of the larger churches are keeping in constant contact with members through daily emails, Facebook and other social media posts. But an added bonus is online streaming of services on Sunday and in some instances also during the week.
Pastors also are looking to the future as in-person Holy Week and Easter services are expected to be cancelled. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, April 5, and Easter Sunday is April 12.
Some resources for online services and activities:
United Methodist Northwest Texas Annual Conference https://www.nwtxconf.org/nwtx-news/digital-church-resources
Catholic Diocese of San Angelo
Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas
Clyde Kieschnick, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, said in an email that he and other church leaders are considering a “drive-through Communion” on Easter Sunday. A circular driveway around the campus would make that option feasible.
David Romanik, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, said he is planning to stream live a service on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. Once the crisis passes and churches start meeting again, Romanik expects to designate a Sunday as kind of an Easter Sunday, with special music and other activities associated with Easter.
“I know people are going to be excited to celebrate,” he said.
For now, the online worship experience is going well. Romanik said he was surprised by how natural the experience felt.
“I could feel the presence of the congregation,” he wrote in an email, “even though there were only three people and a camera in the church building.”
Services can be accessed on the church’s Facebook page. Several people emailed words of appreciation for Heavenly Rest’s online services.
“The 10:30 service was wonderful,” one person wrote. “I especially enjoyed the music and the sermon. We recited along with the readings, and we took communion with you.”
John Whitten, pastor of The Gathering, a contemporary service at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, said in an email he had received tremendous feedback. The Gathering service normally is streamed, he said, but on March 22, the traditional service was streamed too. Video Sunday School lessons also were posted online. The services can be accessed at www.pioneerdrive.org
“One person called and said it was the first time they had ever been to church online,” Whitten said in his email. “On the one hand, they were sad. On the other hand, so thankful for technology to be able to stay connected.”
Following are some comments Whitten received about the March 22 services:
One person wrote, “I think the two services went great today. I enjoyed attending both services. Thanks for all you’re doing to keep things moving forward during this difficult time.”
Another wrote, “Thanks to all who made the Celebration Service possible this morning: those on screen and those behind the scenes handling the technical stuff. Good music and good reminders from John. Looking forward to next Sunday. In between plan to check in on the Bible Studies.”
Zion Lutheran Church is recording its midweek Lent series, which is posted on the church website, www.zion-abilene.org/ , on Wednesdays. For those services, Kieschnick, the pastor, dresses in traditional Lenten attire, a robe with purple stole, to deliver his message. The church’s praise team leader, Josh Rucker, plays hymns on an acoustic guitar. All of it is pieced together and recorded for people to watch when they can.
For Sunday services, a small praise team provides music and interjects when the service requires congregational responses.
“This service is a bit easier and more enjoyable,” Kieschnick wrote in an email, “as I have a small group to engage and communicate with.”
Response to the online services has been great, Kieschnick said in his email.
“They are so appreciative to be able to enjoy these worship experiences, even if from home,” Kieschnick wrote.
Kieschnick also continues to send out three or four “Pastor K” emails each week to stay connected and to provide information, Scripture, prayers, and devotional encouragement.