Churches going virtual in new realm of social-distancing
Areas churches are turning to the internet to provide weekly worship services, given the new normal prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people for the foreseeable future.
The measures come amid tightening efforts to control the new coronavirus spread, and the strategy known as social distancing — no gatherings of more than 10 people, with a 6-foot separation between people even in small-group settings.
Some smaller churches have canceled worship services altogether, in person or otherwise, for the time being. But they, too, are exploring platforms like Zoom.us or Facebook to live-stream Sunday worship services.
Others have already begun live-streaming or pre-recording services, including music and the weekly sermon, and sharing it after the fact on church websites or Facebook pages.
Mountain View Church in Glenwood Springs has canceled in-person services for the near future, and instead is recording services with the worship band and sermon, then posting it on Facebook at 10:15 a.m. on Sundays.
“We’re just trying to create that normalcy, so we’re still gathering, but the only difference is people can gather in their own homes,” Mountain View Pastor Steve Grosz said. “Until something changes with the ban, we’re just trying to think through other ways to do things.”
In the meantime, monetary offerings can also be made via online platforms, or sent via mail, he and pastors of other area churches said.
St. Stephen Catholic Church in Glenwood has canceled all weekday and weekend Masses, along with other church and school activities. Starting last Sunday, the church began providing Sunday Mass in English and Spanish on Facebook.
“This week, we recorded two weekday Masses. And, since we normally celebrate daily Mass, we’ll attempt to record three or four this coming week,” Father Bert Chilson said.
A small group of people are on hand in person, running technology for the recordings and serving as Sacristans and Lectors, as well as musicians.
“Over the weekend, we had over 2,700 hits on our two Facebook Masses,” he said. “It’s very strange celebrating Mass to an empty church. At the same time, the sense of what we call Eucharistic presence and spiritual Communion is very palpable.”
Rev. Dave Lillie, who co-pastors the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt Methodist Churches with his wife, Rev. Carol Lillie, said the area churches have canceled in-person worship services at the recommendation of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who oversees the Mountain Sky Conference.
And, the reality is the situation will very likely impact Holy Week and Easter services April 5-12.
Higher church leadership has noted that it’s time to “embrace technology” as a means to offer worship and devotional opportunities, Lillie said.
During a recent video conference with other Methodist clergy, he said one pastor at a small-town church indicated she was under pressure last week not to cancel face-to-face services.
“She declined, and two days later three of the people who would have been present tested positive (for COVID-19),” Lillie said. “In her words, ‘By selfishly getting together on Sunday morning, we could have infected hundreds or even thousands.’ That’s a sobering thought.”
No church exemption
The 10-person limit on gatherings, per the latest statewide executive order from Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday, does apply to churches, according to Carrie Godes, Garfield County Public Health Specialist.
“Public Health staff is explaining to church representatives that there are no exemptions for faith-based organizations,” Godes said.
Some churches have tried to justify more than 10 people for worship services by separating groups of 10 (or 50 under the previous order) into different parts of the building.
That’s possible, hypothetically, Godes said.
“But they would have to stay 6 feet apart and only be there 10 minutes, and then they would have to move people back out,” she said.
Enforcement on any groups violating the order is strictly complaint-driven, though, “if someone wishes to notify law enforcement when events are going on”
A violation — be it a church, restaurant, night club or any other entity falling under the restrictions — is a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a $5,000 fine and 18 months in jail.
If Public Health is notified, it can’t be the enforcer, Godes said, but can explain the rules and refer the matter to law enforcement.
Area pastors whose churches have gone to an online format for worship services said it’s crucial to maintain faith connections for people, especially during this time.
“We’re posting something almost daily or at least every other day, so it’s almost better now because we’re staying connected with people more than just weekly,” New Creation Church co-Pastor Mark Bintliff said.
New Creation moved to an online format last Sunday, running Facebook Live on its early 8:30 a.m. service, sharing it again at 10:30, and then going live again at 6 p.m.
“We’re limiting our live worship team to 10 to do the production … and we’re hoping to integrate a small children’s video for children’s church,” Bintliff, who co-pastors the church with his wife, Tasha, said. “Our message is to really put faith in God, and not allow the fear to overcome us — and to walk in love with our community.”
The Orchard Church in Carbondale has also begun using Facebook to share its 10 a.m. Sunday service.
“People are definitely looking for a voice of peace in the midst of the global panic,” Orchard Pastor Daniel Self said. “With the constant stream of worry that is coming from different sources, I wanted to position ourselves as a fresh spring of hope and peace.”
Self also spoke to the fear factor amid the current global pandemic.
“We’re currently facing two issues — one is a virus, the other is fear. I’ve found that the fear has a far higher contagion rating than the virus,” Self said. “While we have wise precautions to take for the virus … we really haven’t been given any wise precautions for the fear outbreak.
“The truth is, there is a vaccine for fear, and it’s faith,” he said.
Added Father Chilson, “I think people really know that we are universally united in this crisis, not only as a church but as a world community. It’s wonderful to feel and know of those common prayers and support.”
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