Keeping people away from their doors has never been a message sent by churches.
However, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, area churches have halted all services and masses within their buildings. So now, most churches have moved online and are taking to the video waves to try and ensure their parishioners get as close to the at-church experience as they can.
But watching a mass or service from your couch, kitchen table or wherever you access the internet isn’t the same as being with the rest of the congregation.
Most churches in both the Poynette and Lodi areas have made a successful transition to live-streaming weekday and Sunday services. Blessed Trinity (St. Michael and Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Dane, and St. Patrick in Lodi), Poynette Inch United Methodist Church and St. Peter’s Lutheran in Arlington are just a few of the local churches that have gone online.
“Certainly, this is not the Lent that any of us had in mind when a few weeks ago,’” Blessed Trinity’s Fr. Scott Jablonski wrote in a March 22 letter to parishioners. “So, despite our present circumstances and so much uncertainty, let us do all that we can to resist every temptation to discouragement, hopelessness, anxiety, fear, selfishness, and the like.”
And it’s not easy conducting a service with no one in the congregation, especially as the celebration of Easter approaches.
Jablonski said recently that, “when it comes to celebrating the events of Holy Week and worship in general right now, the greatest challenge for all of us as Christians (and especially for us as Catholic Christians) is that because we are an ‘incarnational’ and relational people, virtual ‘internet church’ or ‘internet liturgy’ — however helpful they might be when compared to having nothing at all — just aren't the same as physically gathering as a community of believers at church.”
Poynette Inch UMC, which pairs with Arlington UMC, is also using social media to conduct its services. Pastor Michele Hopp is conducting Easter Week service a little differently than in the past. A Palm Sunday service was posted to its website at poynetteinchumc.com, along with a virtual communion and a children’s message.
Hopp plans to have a Maundi Thursday foot washing service posted — led by Christian education director Michele Koopmans and her family — a Good Friday message and an Easter Sunday worship service with another children’s message to complete the week.
“We are hearing from our members that they are very appreciative that we are recording our service,” Hopp said. “They also like that they can attend church online anytime!”
Hopp said it has been difficult to stay connected with the various members of her congregation. Children have had the most questions.
“(Children) haven't been able to attend our Wednesday Night Church School and Sunday School programs,” Hopp said. “Parents have told me that their young children don't understand why they can't go to church, especially when they see me at church online. Our teachers and I have been reaching out to the families with children, and sending them books so that they can continue to grow in their faith through Christian education.”
Hopp said that the church is also trying to make frequent posts on its Facebook page and hopes that it can continue its Bible studies and confirmation classes through online programs like Zoom in the near future.
The church is also staying in contact with members who don’t have access to the online services. It has been calling those members, in addition to sending them various cards and letters.
Pastor Christopher Amen of St. Peter’s Lutheran in Arlington has also gone online with services.
“People have been appreciative. Without much of other things out there, this gives them something to have,” Amen said. He added that he has even heard from people outside the church who are members elsewhere that don’t have certain capabilities to online services.
St. Peter’s will conduct normal Easter Week services — Maundi Thursday and Good Friday — but Amen said that while the church usually has a few options on Easter Sunday, he will conduct just one service that day.
Outside of that, “we are trying to make things as normal as possible,” Amen said.
Amen is encouraging people to do things the “old-fashioned” way and write letters to friends and loved ones. Most importantly, he wants people to be safe, especially with his congregation having a wide range of ages.
St. Peter’s has volunteers available if members call the church at 608-636-4825 to go out and shop for supplies, if needed. Amen wants his congregation to stay fed, safe and healthy during this time.
“We realize how serious this is and we want people to keep the faith and keep nourished,” he said.
Jablonski compared the situation that the churches are going through to those missing family members due to military service or other works travels, who are happy to have the technology to communicate immediately and as often as possible, but cannot wait to be in the same place together.
“When you love someone, you want to be in their presence as fully and completely as possible … which is why we all eagerly look forward to that day (hopefully soon) when we can gather again,” Jablonski said.
Jablonski also encourages his parishioners to check the Blessed Trinity website regularly, at btcatholic.us, as he is trying to post helpful content on a daily basis.
There is one area church that is suspending its Easter celebration until the congregation can get together as one. Dekorra Lutheran said on its website that it is postponing all Easter services and celebrations until the congregation can return to the church. The church will celebrate Easter on the first Sunday it can return as a congregation. It is still posting worship services and other messages on its Facebook page.
Churches and technology
Priests, pastors and reverends have added more technology to their daily practices, which comes with several challenges. Churches are now empty, with just a few people in the building on worship days to help with the recording process or provide music.
“It has been challenging to stay connected with the members and friends of Poynette Inch UMC and Arlington UMC, mostly because recording our weekly worship services is brand new for us,” Hopp said. “To respect social distancing guidelines, only three of us meet at the Poynette Inch UMC church on Fridays to record our service — our musician, Gordon Dunn, our office manager and Christian education director, Michele Koopmans, and me.”
At times, technology itself is the challenge when its not normally used on Sundays, or other days.
“On a more practical level, another great challenge has been having to learn to use — and then implement as quickly as possible — some of the helpful technological and communication tools that are out there,” Jablonski said. “I’m not even 40 years old and consider myself rather tech-savvy for a cleric, but I still find some of this a bit overwhelming and exhausting at times.”
Jablonski also worries about the older parishioners, as well as the elderly clergy members, who might have the access to online services, but aren’t familiar with how every piece of technology can help them.
“I can only imagine what our older members might be experiencing or any older clergy in the area. My heart and my prayers go out to them,” Jablonski said.