Editor’s note: To obtain information for this article, I looked up church websites as listed in our Church directory. I then sent messages to the pastors listed on the site. Not all churches responded but here is information from the ones that did. Thank you to all area pastors for the extra work they are putting in during this pandemic and especially for their prayers.
There is a finger rhyme that goes: Here’s the church and here’s the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people. Well, right now, when you open up a church door you will not see the people. They are confined to homes in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
So how do pastors and church leaders keep parishioners informed and share God’s Word? For many area churches, they have already established websites where they have been posting sermons and information for several years. Some also have giving sites set up for offerings. And, nearly all the churches in the area, do have an open door for members and would visit with them as needed even while practicing social distancing.
“We have taken this season as a God-given way to adjust our expectations.” stated Pastor Micah Tanis of First Baptist Church in Morris. “We long for the day we can gather again as a body of believers, but until that day, we are focusing on caring for one another through phone calls, text, notes and video conferencing.”
First Baptist and Federated are two of several churches using Zoom for meetings and Bible Study. Our Redeemers Church in Hancock held a Zoom meeting last week for the council members where they set up a plan for services and contacting members. Our Redeemers does not have a website, so instead, Pastor Julius Miller posted a service on facebook last Sunday. This will continue in the next few weeks. They are working on getting email addresses of members to send out the monthly newsletter in this method.
Other churches are holding phone conversations with council members. At the Morris Evangelical Free Church, their core staff and spiritual shepherds (elders) continue to meet onsite via social distancing. The staff of five meets around a very large table with six to ten feet between each one. The staff implements the daily operations and strategy for ministry alongside monitoring the needs of the congregation. The six elders will meet once a month in the same fashion. “In this way we hope to keep our finger on the pulse of the congregation.” stated Pastor Marlin Mohrman.
While most churches are putting links to sermons on websites, Hosanna Worship is taking this opportunity to try some new things. “Last week we did a ‘drive through’ at the church and handed out communion,” said Pastor Tom Fangmeier. “We handed out Caribou coffee, treats and kids activity packs. The people then went home and watched on facebook live. We had more people than a regular Sunday.”
Next week they will be doing a “Drive in movie theatre church” where people will come and park in their lot, 6 feet apart, and watch the service being broadcast on the front of the building. They will take an offering and pass out communion after “looooong handwashing.” This is unique because the Hosanna church and parking lot was once the site of the Morris Drive-in theatre.
Many churches are also planning to continue serving communion but in a virtual way. At Hosanna, “communion packs” containing cups, bread and juice, were handed out in large zip lock bags. The communion was then celebrated at home watching facebook live. Faith Lutheran in Morris is uncertain at this time and will let members know after a meeting of the council. Other churches are also discussing ways to do communion, some waiting until the pandemic is over and others waiting until Easter.
Churches still need to pay their bills and without regular offerings, that could become a challenge. Pastor Daniel Belgum of First Lutheran Church in Morris stated that they have encouraged people to give through an online platform called “SimplyGiving.” First Baptist has online giving through tithe.ly. They are asking people to use this or mail in offerings. They can also be dropped off at church. This is similar to what all area churches are doing. Some are sending out mailings to members while others are relying on the faith of their members to carry them through.
Pastors continue to pray for their members, make phone calls, sending emails and texts often. The message is getting out there.
“I have been making phone calls to members and have encouraged the congregation to keep in contact with each other and anyone in need around them” said Pastor Reed Stockman of Zion Lutheran church. “I believe it is working because I heard from a person who is not a member, whose husband is in the hospital, that ‘the members of Zion have been awesome’.”
Pastor Matthew Orendorff of Federated Church in Morris added that “In this time of isolation, several members are taking time to call those who may be feeling an extra sense of loneliness such as the elderly, the homebound and the sick. We are also collecting for the food shelf.”
The churches are also continuing to offer Sunday School classes, confirmation and Bible study. These are being done through Zoom or facebook. Pastor Dell Sanderson of Faith Lutheran stated that four pastors from the area worked together to produce a Wednesday evening Lenten service that was downloaded to their church websites.
Pastor Tanis, of First Baptist, invites area people to join in a Community Prayer Night. Each Sunday night at 6 p.m., you can join others from several congregations in praying for God’s Protection and provision for our community, our nation and our world.
With so many churches posting their worship services on websites and facebook, people will have an opportunity to watch multiple services and share encouragement and positive messages. Pastor Fangmeier concluded that the number one thing during this time is to “Trust God.”