Faith community goes digital

Local churches streaming services
By 
Charlie Denison
Senior Reporter
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
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St. James Episcopal Church Pastor Jean Collins gives a sermon via Zoom from the church on Sunday. There are still some kinks to work out, she said, but the digital worship service is a good way to maintain fellowship.
Photo courtesy of Jean Collins

As a result of the coronavirus churches have closed their doors, as leaders in the state and the nation strongly advise against both large and small gatherings in order to prevent spreading the virus. This method – an attempt to “flatten the curve” – has forced pastors, deacons and elders to come up with creative ways to continue Sunday morning worship, and they’ve done so with Facebook Live, YouTube, Zoom and other streaming services.
Technology – despite all its frustrations – has suddenly become the gateway to keeping the faith community together, as several churches are recording services online so members of their congregation can watch from home.
Here are some of the ways local churches are maintaining community.

Frank Burns, Central Baptist pastor
This past Sunday, Frank Burns sat down at his desk, where he delivered a live sermon via Central Baptist Church’s Facebook page.
“We don’t do a full worship service with a band or anything,” he said. “I just sit behind my desk and share a teaching for about 30 minutes.”
Burns said he doesn’t think it’d be responsible to meet every week anymore, especially considering there are elderly members of the congregation who are considered high-risk.
“Everyone in that high-risk category we are telling to self-isolate,” he said. “We are going along with the recommendations to see if we can’t get this to flatten.”

This is an interesting time, Burns said, and a reminder that we do not control our own destiny.
“We are not in control,” he said, “which is a hard lesson to learn. We don’t learn this lesson when things are going well; we learn it when we’ve got a trial going on.”
At a time like this, Burns said we must help one another, serve one another, be there for each other and sacrifice for each other.

Jake Zauche, First Christian pastor
Thanks to Associate Pastor Jeff Sanders, First Christian has already been broadcasting services on YouTube, but now they’re getting a lot more views. Sanders – also the worship leader – joined Zauche Sunday for a service of music and message.
It was a strange experience, Zauche said. He’s used to feeding off the people in the congregation, he’s used to that kind of fellowship. It doesn’t feel natural, but it’s still worship, which is crucial right now.
“This is a pretty unprecedented time,” said Zauche. “When you look over generations, people generally pull together when crisis hits; now we need to do that differently, and it’s important to do this because it gives our folks a rallying point, even if we are not physically in the same place.”
Zauche admits streaming isn’t the same, but it’s safe.
“God’s greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor,” he said. “One way to love your neighbor is to be smart and follow health guidelines.”
Not meeting for church services, Bible studies and other events and activities doesn’t change the mission of First Christian Church, Zauche added. They have the technology to still communicate and share the Word from a distance.
“There are ways to continue to participate in community,” he said. “Social media is a double-edged sword; when used poorly it can be destructive, but it can also be a huge blessing.”

Diane White, First Presbyterian Church pastor
In Lewistown, the faith community often works together, and that remains the case during these early days of the pandemic. White has talked with other churches to see how they plan to approach their services and now plans to start using Zoom, a video-conferencing app.
“Last Sunday we did Facebook Live,” she said, “but Zoom is more interactive. You can see the faces of others who are logged on.”
There are many ways to maintain community at this time, White said, as the church is “more than a building.”
Currently in California, where her 15-year-old grandson just had emergency brain surgery, White is proving this point by doing her first Zoom sermon from out of town, as she stays with her extended family during this traumatic time.
“Technology can be bad,” she said, “but it can also be a really good tool.”
White added that she’s encouraged and excited about these new streaming opportunities showing up during this time of crisis, as it could bring more unity to the faith community and beyond.
“I think it’s really cool how so many churches are banding together and doing social media,” she said. “People can go to two or three churches on a Sunday on social media. What a neat experience for people to be able to do.”

St. Leo’s Catholic Church
Not all churches are broadcasting online services. St. Leo’s has closed the office through March 30 and will have no public mass or church events in that time. The St. Leo’s Facebook page, however, invites members to live stream mass from the Chapel at the Poor Clare Monastery in Great Falls.
Those interested in setting up a time for confession can leave a message at St. Leo’s office, (406) 538-9306.

Jason Ricks, bishop, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In accordance with instruction from LDS leaders and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the local LDS church advises members to stay home on Sundays. There are many resources members can use from home, including “Come, Follow Me,” a family-centered instruction manual that allows families the chance to study from home.
“Most families are doing this and are continuing to get the spiritual nurturing they need,” Ricks said. “This church-supported program is a great opportunity for families to spend quality time together.”
Ricks said members are also encouraged to stay in communication with one another.
“We are keeping tabs on one another,” he said, “We want to make sure we are there to help anyone poor in spirit, as well as those who may be struggling with other specific needs. Our ward here in Lewistown is very tight. We are an extended family. We are very well connected in the community, and this goes beyond our congregation. We are fortunate to be in a small community where most of us know each other.”

Lynne Ogren, Zion Lutheran Church pastor
Zion Lutheran is still experimenting with the best hardware to use to broadcast services, and their members are in the same boat.
“There are varying degrees of comfort,” said Ogren. “Some people are more savvy than others. Some do Facebook, some don’t. Some do email, some don’t even do that. The folks who aren’t online and aren’t seeing video messages I call directly. It can be a challenge to know who to call and how often.”
This is a unique situation, Ogren said, which makes it harder to know the right approach.
“There’s a learning curve here for the whole community,” she said. “Personally I think one of the best things we can do is call each other regularly. As far as checking in with people, phones are the best. I’m thankful we have them. There’s a lot to be thankful for…in previous pandemics people were really stuck. They didn’t have near the amount of lifelines.”
As far as other church activities are concerned, Ogren said she’s putting together Zoom conference calls for youth groups and families.
“So far that’s the best I can come up with,” she said. “I’m thankful we have these kinds of tools.”
Ogren said she hopes people enjoy being home with their families during this strange and uncertain time.
“A good thing that comes out of this is people will have fun playing games together and getting quality time with family,” she said. “I also have hope this will bring us closer together as a community, as a nation and as a world. This is something that affects every race, every age. We are all human beings.”

Jean Collins, St. James Episcopal Church pastor
On Sunday, Jean Collins had the honor of preaching to her daughter in Washington, D.C., and her son in San Francisco.
“They went to a service at St. James,” she said, albeit it via Zoom. “What a wonderful option this is for all of us.”
At this time Episcopal churches are instructed to cease regular worship until May 10, but worship continues, and Zoom has been particularly fun, Collins said, as she can see the faces of the people who participate.
“It’s fun waving at people as the faces pop up,” she said. “It’s a community gathering. I like that we can hear one another. It’s really neat.”
This, of course, can also create some awkwardness, but Collins said the congregation is figuring out the kinks.
“A number of people aren’t very tech savvy,” she said. “Thank God we have people in the congregation who are, who can help get this going and give us this option to continue to feed and nourish the spirit at this time. The internet is really a gift and it is holding up quite well. It’s a tremendously useful tool for connecting with people.”
Connecting is critical, Collins added, as “quarantine can be very bad for the spirit.”
“We need to keep in as close contact as we can,” she said. “It’s important to reach out and important to point out that God is not doing this to us, but He is very much present.”
For more information on what the faith community is doing at this time, see the News-Argus Church Directory.

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