Internet services. Drive-up services. In-home services.
Churches have relied on all those innovations to keep members safe, but connected, during the pandemic.
“We are trying to make sure people are connected while we are apart,” said Donovan Christian, lead pastor at Expedition Church. He delivers a weekly sermon through social media with an online audience of close to 1,500.
But getting everyone to accept change hasn’t been easy.
“What we told people, the most loving thing for people now is to not be together,” said Donovan.
The Centers for Disease Control said churches and schools play “an important role in slowing the spread of diseases, especially among high-risk populations.”
Many case clusters have erupted after people attended a wedding or funeral, so the CDC has asked churches to help minimize social contact.
To help, the CDC has complete instructions on how churches can use hygiene and social distancing to avoid an outbreak. But if an outbreak occurs, the CDC has information on how to help identify those who might be infected within the organization.
To keep the human connection, the members of Expedition Church have phone trees for “people that maybe we haven’t heard or seen from,” said Christian.
On top of all that, Expedition has pooled its members’ resources to help stock pantries with toilet paper and staples of those who struggle.
Groups Expedition calls “life groups” meet remotely throughout the week.
“It’s exponential,” said Christian of the impact social media and technology have made on the Expedition members’ connectedness.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints found another solution. It took worship into the home.
On Sundays, families post pictures reading scripture or taking a moment to just pose for a family shot.
Local businessman Scott Flake posted a picture of his family gathering for Sunday service in late March. He explained the church started at-home programs last year “to shift more responsibility to the home.”
The worldwide church provides a guide each week “so that everybody is studying the same thing,” said Flake.
But it’s not quite the same.
“Obviously, we do miss seeing each other face to face and giving hugs and shaking hands,” he said.
But the home services have brought levity to the sacred. After a service with grandchildren, “the toys are strewn out on the floor,” said Flake with a chuckle.
Meanwhile in Gisela, rancher Cassie Lyman and her family, “Don’t even know how it is even possible, but we can even manage to be late for church when it is at home.”
She and her husband have four boys. Lyman often posts pictures of them helping her make Sunday dinner for after the service.
Lyman praised church programs to ensure members don’t feel isolated. The women of the Relief Society have a ministering program that assigns a number of women in their ward or group to contact other women in the church. The men in the church have the same type of program.
“We call, write letters, video chat or ... even connect through social media to check on the needs of these women and their families,” said Lyman.
Others in town enjoy the casual nature of watching church from home.
Local business owner Carol Quigley usually plays the drums at her church, Calvary Chapel.
Now, she dresses casually to enjoy Sunday service from home.
“Socks in my living room, you gotta love it!” She posted in her socks along with a picture of Pastor Issac Bradford giving a sermon from his pulpit on her screen in late March.
On that Sunday, she wore jeans with her socks.
For Easter, she dressed extra comfy with a pair of rabbit slippers that only went with her lounge wear.
“I’m really liking this ‘church in pajamas’ thing,” she said, sending another picture for Easter Sunday.
Christian comforts himself that this pandemic won’t last forever.
“Hopefully it will end sooner rather than later,” he said.
In the meantime, he will continue to field calls and support his members to keep everyone positive.