Attending Worship Services During A Pandemic
During the most recent Newtown Interfaith Council meeting, it was clear that those in the room were struggling on the best way to continue serving their respective faith communities. The meeting was on March 11, right on the cusp of COVID-19 entering the mainframe of Newtown life.
Even then, it was really the only topic discussed during a meeting that ran nearly 90 minutes. A visit by Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert was the lead item on the afternoon’s agenda. Her brief presentation, then answers to some questions, was followed by continued discussion on what came next: fewer services? Online services? A combination of the two?
While most in the room felt it was time to close their doors, and move to an online presence, one voice kept challenging the idea of halting live services. Christ the King Lutheran Church Pastor Rob Morris was not ready to start telling people they could not attend worship services.
As of last weekend, Christ the King continues to offer worship services — live as well as online. Church members can watch the services while they happen, or they can pull them up at their convenience.
In addition to continuing traditional Sunday Divine Services, Morris recently launched weekday noon services.
“We’re not locking the doors,” the pastor said this week. “People can come to those, too.”
It’s a matter of principle Morris has been talking about and praying over for weeks.
In a post he wrote for fellow Lutheran pastors, a copy of which he shared with The Newtown Bee, Morris explained in part: “I am not impugning or second-guessing anyone else’s decisions. It may be the right choice not to meet…but I hope that decision always and fully remains with the church, not the state.”
Attending church during a pandemic means taking the same precautions that many other locations are taking. At Christ the King, this means pews have not only been wiped down, they have also had their hymnals, Bibles, visitor cards and pencils, and all other materials removed.
In the recent post for fellow pastors, Morris further described steps taken to protect himself and the ten others who chose to join him for a recent evening prayer group. Similar steps are also taken for the live services.
“Bulletins are full-text and laid out individually on a table so you don’t touch anyone else’s, nitrile glovers are available to anyone who comes, hand sanitizer is at every entrance and in every pew, no one sits within six feet of anyone else or touches anyone else…every possible precaution, rendering the chance of transfer between asymptomatic carriers (all of whom would be in the church anyway) almost zero,” he wrote.
Even with all these precautions, Morris is not preaching to a full house these days. In person attendance, he said March 30, has “definitely decreased.”
Typical attendance for Sunday services is 100 people, he said. On March 29, there were 33 people for that morning’s Divine Service.
“If people feel safe, and they’re taking the proper precautions, I’m glad they can gather and worship,” Morris said. “If safety demands they stay at home, I’m glad they can do that.”
The service of March 29 had 88 views by the morning of March 30.
“I hear from couples and families who are watching from home,” he said, “so 88 views is more than 88 people” who have viewed the service.
“But honestly,” he continued, “I told people yesterday I’m happy with either outcome. If people feel safe, and they’re taking the appropriate precautions, I’m glad they can gather and worship here. If safety demands they stay at home, I’m glad they can do that.”
Pastor Morris said he and the church elders have had “some really good conversations” concerning in-person worship services.
“We have an elder who’s a physician, and others in other walks of like, so there are a lot of different viewpoints,” he said. Any public statement the pastor makes, therefore, comes after “everyone is relatively at peace with the overall direction” being taken, he added.
It helps, he added, “because we work so hard to provide people with all kinds of options.”
The choices have been appreciated by parishioners. Many have written to thank their pastor for keeping church in their lives during this time. Morris agreed to share some of the recent feedback, but asked to keep the names of those who wrote to him anonymous.
One person wrote to thank the church leader for “leading us by example and keeping us a caring congregation,” while another said that while they could not be at the church in person, they were grateful that its doors were not closed.
“It helps to have the visual and be constantly reminded we will get through this,” they wrote.
Being able to watch the services at any hour is a comfort to another member of Christ the King, who wrote they “have been comforted and encouraged by the noon services. Watch them before I go to sleep — peaceful way to end the day.”
Finally, one parishioner summed up the feelings of many others — including those in other faith communities who are also waiting for the day when everyone can gather without fearing for their health — when they wrote: “This live streaming technology is awesome, but I long for the return to the old days.”