Church services remain modified for COVID
COVID-19 has caused life as we know it to become altered. Businesses, schools, restaurants have had to modify operations during this pandemic in efforts to reduce the risk of contracting the virus and adding to the spread of it. In addition to local establishments, area churches have definitely felt the impact of the need for modifying social gatherings and are doing their best to enforce social distancing.
Pastor John Tagliarini, of First Baptist Church, shared how his congregation has been impacted during the pandemic.
“When the governor set the first restrictions, on March 13, we worshiped on Sunday, March 15, with only a small (less than ten) group of worship leaders in the sanctuary,” Tagliarini said. “We streamed this service, as we had been prior to the restrictions. We worshiped in this fashion for 21 weeks. The exception was Easter Sunday, when we held a drive-in service and streamed and worshiped from the front porch.”
It has been a challenge trying to stream services, he said. To help, they invested in additional video and audio equipment.
“Streaming also requires a great deal of human resources working behind the scenes to make things happen,” Tagliarini said. “All we endeavor to accomplish is worth nothing without the guidance and enabling of the Holy Spirit. We depend on God!”
More recently in-person services resumed, but Tagliarini stressed they are “leaning on common sense and love to guide their actions” while gathering in person.
“The services are shortened,” he explained. “We only sing with the congregation at the end of the service while masked. Then, everyone is encouraged to step outside for any further interaction. We replaced our choir for now with a small group of worship leaders. Only when things are safe will we return to corporate singing of that nature. We have sanitizing stations, thermometers and masks. We separate the seating.”
Pastor Tagliarini encourages the community to see the silver lining in these challenging times of the pandemic.
“God loves His world with an unending love,” he said. “He does not cause these trials to come upon us. However, He will not waste them either. These are opportunities to love and to trust Him more fully, and to love one another more faithfully.”
The Grove sticks with online model
Jeff Helpman, of The Grove Church in Bryson City, shared how his congregation has been affected throughout the pandemic.
“Our pastor made the decision to cease in-house services, from Guatemala, while on a mission trip to build homes for widows. March 10 was our last in person service. We started streaming our services online after this.”
Helpman said everyone misses being together in person, however, the leaders of the church continue to feel it is important to protect the most vulnerable.
It has not been an easy decision moving from in house gatherings to online streams.
“It has been a difficult decision to make and not always the popular one, but our leadership team chose safety over togetherness during this time,” he said.
Streaming on social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube has become a trend across the country. Several Swain County churches in our area have gotten on board with this and been able to keep members connected via live stream.
Helpman said providing services online has improved.
“We are able to provide live worship, music and message online each week. In the beginning, there were some streaming issues, but thanks to our amazing volunteer circle, we have worked those out,” he said. “A big thank you to Swain County High student, Cannon Helpman, who has volunteered to run the audio and video software needed to stream services and helped us keep things running smoothly since March when this all began.”
Helpman said it has been a different feel on Sundays not having a crowd in house. He and the the leadership team have brainstormed ideas for different styles of service ranging from music only, panel interviews as well as traditional services. “We are trying to create space for people to engage with one another, digitally,” he said.
For now, The Grove will continue to operate through digital platforms instead of in person.
“We’re not through this yet and it’s important we trust the science and local health officials when it comes to how we should gather together,” Helpman said.