By Sulz, Dave on March 21, 2020.
Many people these days are likely praying for deliverance from the COVID-19 pandemic – they’re just not doing it from the church pews.
Social-distancing measures that have been implemented to help combat the spread of the coronavirus have prompted local church congregations to halt the traditional gatherings for Sunday services.
First Baptist Church in Lethbridge held its last Sunday service until further notice this past Sunday, and even that service featured differences – fewer attendees, no hand-shaking … and no coffee.
“We usually have the coffee station always going, but we shut that down,” said Mark Archibald, the church’s pastor of spiritual formation. “A lot of things we normally do, we altered significantly.”
The local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community, following the directive from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, has stopped all church worship services, as well as youth group and other gatherings. Instead, “members are having church in their homes as families,” said Traci Sherwood, communications director for the Lethbridge Stake.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, which includes parishes in Lethbridge, indicated on its website that masses have been cancelled, as of March 17, until April 5. Other churches in the area have similarly halted Sunday services in their buildings.
But that doesn’t mean no worship for the worshippers. Churches are finding creative ways to serve their congregations, with some taking advantage of technology to bring services to the people wherever they may be.
For example, Evangelical Free Church of Lethbridge and MyVictory Lethbridge Campus have taken their services online. The MyVictory website indicates that applies not only to the weekend services, but also the MyVictory Kids, MyVictory Youth and Connect Groups programs.
First Baptist is also reaching its congregation via cyberspace. Sunday sermons, along with worship songs, will be recorded and uploaded to YouTube, and youth groups, small groups and Bible studies will still be able to meet through a program called Zoom.
“You can still see people face to face, even though you’re not in the same room,” said Archibald.
“People will still have the means to connect.”
That’s an important consideration at any time, but especially now as the community deals with the stress of the pandemic.
“That’s a big priority, making sure people are still connected and feel connected,” Archibald said, adding it’s a challenging task when people can’t meet face to face.
“Church is such a social-driven thing that it’s a big adjustment,” he noted.
Those personal connections will be maintained in other ways, including “a lot more phone calls,” in order to let members, many of whom are seniors, know that “we care and are concerned for their well-being,” said Archibald.
The Lethbridge LDS Stake is also working hard to stay connected with its members, through “phone calls, video chats, checking in with every person in the ward to see how they’re doing and what they need,” said Sherwood.
Still, having to connect in these ways is an adjustment.
“It’s different because you can’t physically see them,” she said. “You can’t give them a hug. The ways we’re used to connecting are not available to us right now. It makes it challenging.”
Personal connections are an integral part of church life in normal times, but it’s in times of crisis such as this that they become especially important.
“You spend all this time going to church and building relationships, and this is where that comes into play,” Sherwood said. “It’s important to have those relationships and maintain them, and probably build new ones.”
That goes for the people who are serving others, too.
“Even for the one reaching out, you need it as well,” she noted. “You need to maintain a sense of being connected.”
Sherwood agreed a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic can help promote a stronger sense of community as people band together to get through the crisis.
“All of the mundane preoccupations are gone. It brings the things that are most important into hyper-focus, which are each other.”
As challenging as this period is, Sherwood remains optimistic.
“I feel like we’re going to come out of this as a better community. All the unimportant things that seem to take up so much of our time have been stripped away. I think we’ll come out feeling like we’ve gone through something together.”