Hope or Havoc: Churches Share Experiences with Covid-19 Changes

Hope or Havoc: Churches Share Experiences with Covid-19 Changes

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One of many empty sanctuaries across the Conference 
Most of the Southern New England Conference churches have not held in-person worship services since March 12, when the Bridge Conference Ministers recommended all churches suspend in-person activities. Since that time, the Conference staff have been inundated with emails and calls from pastors and church leaders asking for help with online content, streaming, how to use Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, or all three; in the meantime many others have offered their creative ideas to help others. Despite the havoc of this unusual Covid-19 era we are in, many churches are persevering and even embracing the new. Below are some of comments and concerns churches have shared about their triumphs and struggles.

Phoenix Rising UCC, Haverhill, MA and Groveland Congregational Church, UCC, Groveland, MA
The Rev. Donna Spencer Collins (Phoenix Rising) and the Rev. Christopher Hart (Groveland) have joined forces to hold a drive-in style worship, complete with FM transmitter. The individual cars acted as the barriers needed for physical distancing during this time of Coronavirus health concerns. People stayed in their cars, and because they were parked within a short distance of the church, they could tune into FM 90.3 to listen to the service, music, and prayers. (Read more here.)

Oxford United Church of Christ Congregational, CT,  and Middlebury Congregational Church, CT
These two churches in south central Connecticut are worshiping online together. Oxford did not have the capacity to make online church happen, but the Middlebury congregation opened their online worship to their neighbors.

"The Middlebury folks are THRILLED to welcome them," says Rev. Mary Nelson, South Central Regional Minister.

First Congregational Church of South Hadley
The South Hadley church will be celebrating Palm Sunday with two of its neighbors, a Lutheran church and an Episcopalian church. Folks from these churches will engage in a car-parade from the Lutheran church to South Hadley First, waving branches out of their windows as they go.

Wilbraham United Church, MA
"We have used "Facebook Live" for our Church Services,  added a Wednesday evening prayer service on Facebook Live, and have just started to offer "Bedtime Bible Stories" on Tuesday evenings. Our pastor, Chip Hurd, was able to interview one of our members who is a medical doctor as a means to educate and calm our members," shared Rev. Paul Nesbit, Associate Pastor at Wilbraham.

They have also started "At Home Church School" emailed weekly for children to complete at their leisure.
 
Barrington Congregational Church, RI
Like most churches, Barrington started with precautions like washing hands and using hand sanitizer and keeping a distance in the sanctuary. Then they went virtual, with the pastors and music director streaming from an empty sanctuary. The next week, with a Stay-At-Home Directive from Rhode Island's governor, they hosted from four locations. This week they hope to add a specially recorded video including some of the church's children.

"Yes, there have been glitches each and every week. Yes, we are learning and growing on the fly. But, what has been awesome is how willing people have been to tune in. Now people are embracing Zoom meetings, happy hours, fellowship time, and other gatherings. Even our knitting group has set up a Zoom meeting for it’s next gathering. We have been challenged but we are learning how to be community, and how to remain faithful, during this challenging time," says Rev. Dale Azevedo.

The First Congregational Church of Southampton, UCC, MA
Southampton has gone completely online and created some interactive worship. Rev Quentin Chin says he feels that Zoom is in ways more intimate that a sanctuary because people can hear one another. He also thinks there are disadvantages that should be considered.
"Zoom still remains problematic for some people. I learned that some people with desktops don't have a mic or camera. Others have no computer at all and are calling in. They, I believe, distinctly feel second class," says Chin.

One solution Chin has implemented is having Zoom sessions Monday through Thursday at different times, and designating one of these session to be telephone call-in only.
 
Ridgebury Congregational Church, CT
Rev. Deborah Rundlet has gone virtual but is combining this with real-world tangibles. She sent communion wafers to church members for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday services so they can have communion together. They have also included three weekly virtual meetings: a Monday prayer gathering, a Wednesday guided meditation, and a Candle Prayer every Friday evening.
 
"All via Zoom to allow for interaction in real time! " says Rundlet. "The hidden gift is that our shut-ins, snow birds, and friends near and far are able to join us.  Our worship attendance is actually up by about 25%.  We will not be going back to life as usual once the stay-in-place has lifted."
 
Cotuit Federated Church, MA
Cotuit Federated Church has embraced the Facebook Live stream and enjoys the interactive portion where people can share comments, but Rev. Angela Menke Ballou has some concerns. She finds that the people who are not Facebook users cannot comment and are missing a portion of the worship. She also hopes to improve the ability to share music videos during Facebook Live sessions.
 
The Congregational Church of South Dartmouth, UCC, MA
Rev. Emily Kellar is embracing the struggle and letting mistakes be a sign of the reality of the times. She found the pressure of live streaming to be prohibitive, and has learned to enjoy creating pre-recorded content and uploading it to YouTube.
 
"I made a personal decision not to re-record anything - so if I state the date wrong, I let it roll and make a comment about it in our Constant Contact email - how we all live imperfectly - and Jesus does not call us to a life of perfection."
 
Kellar has also found new connections in this time of isolation, hearing from complete strangers following her YouTube channel, and starting email conversations with church members who don't regularly attend services.
 
Park Congregational Church, Norwich CT
Rev. Paul Doyle has been struggling with the many steps involved when running a Zoom worship. He shared the frustrations he was having trying to manage all the dos and don'ts of a live feed: "Hit record, open the screen, then share it, don't forget to add the sound, maximize the screen, don't just sit there, they're watching you, be careful what you say, muting people, not muting people."  Doyle now uses an off-screen cheat sheet to keep him on track.
 
"You just gotta laugh too," says Doyle. "We should save the outtakes and do a UCC blooper reel."

If you have stories you would like to share, both of your successes and struggles in this time, please email Drew Page and include the subject line "Hope or Havoc".
 

Author

drewpage_16.jpg
Drew Page

Drew Page is a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer deaning at Silver Lake Conference Center with his wife, Debby.

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