Since the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon our nation, everyone and everything has been affected, including our congregations. People have become quite creative in their response. Even though we were required to avoid meeting in public, the church did not stop being the church. Here is how some of our congregations responded to the lockdown and “sheltering in place”!
Brodie Taphorn, Mill Run Campus Pastor, Upper Arlington Lutheran Church
Seemingly overnight almost everything that we did – practically speaking – as a church…had to change. No more face -to-face pastoral calls, no more sacraments and baptisms as we have always practiced them, no more worship services, no more church council meetings (ok, things could be worse). Everything changed. Everything was complicated. Everything needed to be rethought. There is no magic formula to this kind of thing.
Good leadership is good leadership regardless of the circumstance. We collaborated, we got creative, we empowered people to figure things out, and ultimately we came up with a lot of new, creative, and hopefully temporary ways to be the church in a global pandemic.
Perhaps the best thing that we have done is figured out a way to connect with our people in a regular and deliberate way. We call it UALC Live on the 9s. We do a Facebook Live event every day at 9:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. We have used staff, council members, and regular church folk to share something substantively for about 20 minutes, twice a day. It has helped our people feel connected to the church much the same way that morning and evening prayers did in yonder year.
Again, it is not a magic formula. It doesn’t have to be twice a day, [just] something regular and purposeful that has broad ownership and demonstrates to the church that we will figure out, by God’s grace, how to be the church regardless of what hardship comes our way.
I’m confident that churches across our association are coming up with other creative ways of being the church.
May God be glorified as we figure out how to ‘love one another’ as a responsible, social distanced, church body!
Mark Schimmel, Pastor, Zion Lutheran Church
Staying in touch while staying distant is the most challenging part of this whole experience. I’ve been making many more phone calls than usual. The group of rugged individuals I minister to here in central Texas is usually not very demanding of this pastor’s office time, but in the midst of this event I think they appreciate the calls that I and our council members have made to just stay in touch and see how they are doing.
In terms of worship, I’ve been a bit ahead of the curve in presenting an online option as we have been doing Facebook Live broadcasts for over two years now and have a system in place. The change to a virtual-only service took a bit of adjustment, but it was a fairly easy transition for us.
I’m not comfortable with the idea of “online communion”, so I really wanted to get us together physically on Easter Sunday.
Fortunately, the governor of Texas and our county judge put out some guidance in the weeks before Easter that churches were to be considered essential services and specifically authorized the use of drive-in worship services and even drive-through communion, citing the fact that drive-throughs are permitted for many types of businesses (restaurants, pharmacies, and even liquor stores).
I got to work early in making sure that I had the technical equipment needed to put on a drive-in service (primarily the FM transmitter to be able to send the audio to car radios) and lined up our members who are medical workers to assist with communion so folks would have confidence in their aseptic handling of the elements.
I also made sure that we could stream the service on Facebook Live so that members who were unable to attend would still have the option of attending online.
Our church is located directly across the street from our local school and the school has a much more suitable parking lot, so I got permission from the school administration to have our service there rather than in the church parking lot.
The service went great and many people commented on how meaningful it was for them to be able to attend church, even if it meant that they needed to stay in their cars and remain “socially distant”.
We’ll be doing this drive-in church probably once a month going forward as long as the quarantine life is with us.
Laurel Swanson, Lutheran Church of the Cross
At Lutheran Church of the Cross in Altoona, IA, much like at your churches, March 13 was the day that we had to stop talking about all the things we should be doing to empower our members to BE the church, and actually put some of those ideas into action.
While this wasn't a choice, and it definitely wasn't easy, we are seeing God at work in some miraculous ways. If you want to check out any of our video options, they can be found at www.lccaltoona.org/watch.
Some of the things we are doing to keep connected include:
- Pre-recording our weekend worship service and making it available on-demand by Saturday afternoon. We are asking members of the congregation, not just staff, to participate in video segments, and finding unique places to shoot the video. This picture is from our Easter service opening of "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" recorded at a staff member's pond.
- Kids Connect Videos - Our Children's Ministry coordinator, Kristie Kolsrud, along with her family, records a 5 minute "Kids Connect" video with a "big idea" and activity.
- Virtual Wednesday Youth Nights - Our Discipleship Pastor, Noah Ruppert, records a 10 minute message and worship segment for our Wednesday Night Youth. Our youth small group leaders set up zoom calls with all of our 6th-12th grade youth to check-in.
- Daily Facebook Live - Each weekday, one of our ministry staff leads a 20 minute Facebook Live session. These have ranged from live music, to scripture reading, to devotionals. Whatever the staff member chooses.
- Phone Call Team - We have a team of members making weekly calls to our 65+ age group to check in with them and make sure they are doing okay.
- Virtual Small Groups - Our group leaders are encouraged to connect with their group virtually.
We continue to consider ways that we can improve how we are reaching the community and the world in meaningful ways. We know that this is not going to be "over" or "back to normal" any time soon, and our desire is to see God glorified in ways we never could have imagined.
Kip Tyler, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Master
At Lutheran Church of the Master in Omaha we have leveraged technology and social media in ministry and worship during the Covid19 pandemic:
- We use Zoom for meetings, confirmation, youth Bible studies and keeping in touch.
- YouTube is used for sermons, Bible studies and general teaching announcements.
- We send out electronically a bi-weekly/weekly letter on congregational updates due to current governmental advisement.
- We have launched a Facebook page called LCM Coronavirus Outreach FB Group which serves as a ministry, idea, inspiration and outreach site for the congregation and others where they can participate in encouraging and informing each other in service to our neighbors.
- We video both contemporary and traditional worship with a joint sermon which can be accessed either through our website, app or Facebook.
- A South Sudanese service is posted in Nuer on Facebook.
- We have phoning and card contacts to shut-ins by members, Stephen Ministers and our youth.
- Unfortunately funerals have been extended gravesite gatherings, usually of just family members.
- Members are making non-medical masks, holding a blood drive, raising funds to help people who have lost jobs and have financial needs, getting resources to Pine Ridge Reservation and taking supplies to shut-ins who are unable to leave their homes.
Sue Gunderson, Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church
We realized right away that not gathering with our Bible School and Confirmation students every Wednesday afternoon was going to be a huge loss during the lockdown.
An important thing we do during that time is to gather around the table for snack time after school. So, our idea was to help families create that time together but around the family meal.
Through some funds donated to us we have been able to provide a pizza a week for our families. We have a member that has a gas station with pizzas and sandwiches to order. The families call in their order and when then pick it up they receive a devotional guide for the week along with their pizza.
The devotional guide is created by our education leaders. Holy Week’s devotions focused on different parts along Jesus’ journey to the cross, so the devotional came with pictures depicting each step along the way – from Jesus entry into Jerusalem, to his crucifixion and burial.
Families were encouraged to make palm branches by tracing their hands and cutting them out to make a palm branch; then to place the pictures for each day on the palm branch as a way to mark the journey to the cross.
It has been a great way for our families to stay grounded during this time while creating a meaningful family devotional time and hopefully a pattern for their lives that will last long after Covid-19 is gone.
Barb Baker, Morningside Lutheran Church
For Easter this year, the Morningside Lutheran Church staff threw around the idea of some sort of drive-up service or special interaction for our church family.
The MLC Food Pantry is currently offering drive-up assistance for those who need food and the process has been working well. We strongly believe that connecting with one another is vital, so with the state regulations and weather forecast in mind, we decided to have drive-up communion!
MLC’s Easter Services were prerecorded in the weeks leading up to Easter. Both a traditional and contemporary version of worship was uploaded to our website and Facebook page late Saturday night, so it could be viewed at any point on Sunday.
From 9:00 -10:00 A.M. Sunday morning, we offered drive-up communion at the church building. One at a time, vehicles would pull up next to the church front doors and roll down their windows. Drive-up communion consisted of receiving an individually packaged communion wafer and juice cup, time to pray or talk with one of the pastors, drop off an offering, and pick up a child activity bag for those in 5th grade and below.
Weather did not cooperate with us on Easter Sunday (as you can see in the picture), but it was a wonderful experience and we had a lot of great feedback from those who were able to come out.
Moving forward, we will be offering drive-up communion the 1st Sunday of each month to accompany our live streamed services. Of course, we are still constantly thinking outside the box on ways we can reach all in our community!
Larry Kassebaum, Pastor, Victory Lutheran Church
At Victory Lutheran Church here in Mesa, AZ, our response to the “physical distancing” requirement of the COVID-19 pandemic has four key components:
- We videotape an abbreviated version of our regular weekend worship service and make it available for replay on our website and through Facebook
- We offer three “drive in” worship options in our parking lot for those who don’t use technology or who just desire at least some measure of real community. We purchased an FM radio transmitter and worshipers turn to an assigned FM radio station available only in our parking lot
- We create two versions, one audio only and one video, of a daily devotional by Pastor Steve Lien or me that we call “Daily Hope.” In these devotions we share a reading from scripture, our personal reflection on that scripture, a prayer and any virus-related updates to our scheduling or activities. For those with cell phones and e-mail, we send a link to these messages at 8:00 A.M. For those without this technology, we created a dedicated phone line that makes the same pastor-led daily devotion and information update available on a “call in” basis.”
- We have created an intentional pastoral (phone) call system to provide an opportunity for us to just “check-up” on our members.
To share what your congregation is doing in response to COVID-19, please visit our Facebook Page and share your story in the "COVID-19 Megathread" post pinned to the top of our page.
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