Churches have been forced to transcend the four walls they have traditionally been confined to and offer new ways to worship. Some churches have transitioned their services completely online. Other churches have reopened their doors to the public while offering online options.
Gage Henry, Auburn Community Church’s college pastor, said the church did not hold in-person meetings until the beginning of October. ACC was not meeting in person because the church’s building is not sizable enough for members to be able to properly social distance.
ACC makes weekly sermons available on their YouTube channel and website starting Saturday at 11:59 p.m. The church was encouraging members to form watch parties. Watch parties allow smaller groups of people to independently gather in someone’s home and watch the sermon on the church’s online platforms, he said.
“The purpose of a watch party like this is your opportunity to invite someone to church,” Henry said. “It’s just inviting them into your home, maybe giving them some breakfast or lunch and welcoming them in your space as opposed to inviting them into our space.”
Henry said that the church has also continued to offer small groups, both in person and on Zoom that meet on a weekly basis. Since students returned to Auburn in August, approximately 500 people have signed up to join small groups.
Henry said that ACC has continued to offer service opportunities.These opportunities range from volunteering with local organizations like Esperanza House to writing notes of encouragement to teachers as they return to school.
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Although ACC was not meeting in person, they have seen an increase in involvement and have expanded their audience, Henry said.
“With our online audience, I would say that we have grown,” Henry said. “We probably average two to three thousand views on our YouTube page alone for the weekly services.”
Henry said that on a weekly basis ACC has people from 30 or 40 different states watching online. People from other states have not only been watching the weekly services, but have also been getting involved in small groups on Zoom. In one Zoom group, 10 different states are represented.
ACC has also seen an increase in overseas viewership. Henry said that many international Auburn students who attended ACC before the pandemic hit have continued watching online.
“We have an intern from South Africa and she is watching online there,” Henry said. “Just because it’s an online audience, I feel like it has kind of multiplied.”
Although many positives have resulted from ACC being solely online, Henry said that people benefit from being able to pray together.
“Not gathering with people can affect your overall excitement and enthusiasm around worship,” Henry said. “[ACC staff] have been trying to figure out the best way to make sure people aren’t isolated.”
Trinity Lutheran Church in Auburn has continued meeting in person for Sunday services, said pastor Corey Grunklee. Trinity has shifted from offering two services on Sunday mornings to just offering a single service. Trinity’s service begins at 8:30 a.m. and alternates between traditional and contemporary services on a weekly basis.
Grunklee said that the church had not offered Bible school on Sunday mornings until the end of September.
Trinity is still holding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Bible studies and a quilting group. The programs have limited capacity and are following social distancing restrictions.
Pews are marked off and members are only allowed to sit every other pew, Grunklee said.The number of people sitting in a pew has also been limited because different family units have been asked to maintain six feet between them.
“We can probably sit two families of four in a pew side by side and still have six feet in between those families,” Grunklee said. “We are asking people to just, as best as they can, sit by people they live with.”
Grunklee also said that everyone is adhering to the mask policy and wears one the entire service.
Measures have been taken to safely participate in communion, Grunklee said. He sanitizes his hands and wears gloves before handling the wafers. Members are only allowed to approach the front one at a time, and Grunklee drops the wafer in their hand without making contact. Next, members take a single cup of wine from an individual tray. The wine is handled by two Church elders wearing gloves. Members are only allowed to pull their masks down long enough to eat the wafer and drink the wine.
Grunklee said that he is not aware of anyone in his congregation having tested positive for coronavirus at this time. In the future, if a member tests positive, first and foremost he will take steps to offer them support. Grunklee also said he would make it a priority to inform his congregation if someone is sick so they can take proper safety measures.
“I would want to be as transparent as I could without violating someone’s privacy,” Grunklee said.
Trinity also offers an online component for those who are unable to attend in person. Grunklee said that they broadcast the service via Zoom by sending an email to members every week with a link to join. Members can then share the link with people outside the congregation. Trinity began streaming their service live on Facebook beginning Sept. 6.
“We’ve had anywhere from 20 to 50 people on Zoom,” Grunklee said.
Grunklee said that COVID-19 has made communication among the church community decline. Over half of Trinity’s members are not comfortable returning to in-person worship yet. Despite this, however he has noticed, a new sense of community has emerged in the congregation.
“The ones who feel comfortable gathering and going out in public have really stepped up in roles of being willing to help,” Grunklee said.
Grunklee said that the church has not only grown stronger as a community through the pandemic, but many members report growing closer to God. Because life has become so unpredictable, many members have relied on their relationship with God as a source of dependability.
“In the conversations I’ve had with people, whether it’s the ones who are coming to church or the ones that are not, the constant theme is that they feel they’ve drawn closer to God,” Grunklee said.
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