With stay-at-home orders in place across the state, many mountain-area churches are opting to worship — including celebrating Easter Sunday — with virtual services.
Local pastors and church leaders in Conifer and Evergreen want to ensure members of their congregations — some who may feel lonely or scared in these uncertain times — have a way to worship.
“I think we are made to have community,” Conifer Community Church Pastor Lance Swearengin said. “I think there’s something inherent. No matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you need others around you. We’re just made for community, so not having anything was just not an option.”
Brian Whiting, who heads up sound production at Morrison’s Mountain High Chapel, agreed.
“We definitely want to make sure that we’re connecting with people, that we’re still getting the word out and encouraging people, especially in this time,” he said. “… Even though we can’t be in person, we can still communicate and connect and preach the gospel.”
At Church of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Evergreen, Pastor Susan Boucher said it was important to have virtual services in the sanctuary, so congregants can still see the baptismal font, the pulpit and the communion table, which are all tangible parts of worship.
She sees the stay-at-home orders much like people in exile in the Bible — though not as dramatic — but “we aren’t able to go and gather as a people of God in that space.”
Many churches are already set up to broadcast services. However, in an environment that typically feeds off the energy and response of the congregation, it’s been an adjustment for church leaders to adapt to this new normal that requires sharing a message to empty seats.
“It’s definitely different having church service with only a couple people running sound and running the video and nobody really communicating back,” Whiting said.
“You know, even walking into the sanctuary, it’s pretty lonely,” said the Rev. Vera Guebert-Steward, pastor at Evergreen Lutheran Church. “There’s no reaction. You can’t see faces to know if they’re getting it or are into it or blessed by it. You have to trust that you are touching people’s hearts.”
She has tried something unusual for the church: asking people to do communion virtually. Guebert-Steward blesses the bread and wine, and asks families to do the same and then share it.
For Swearengin, the first two weeks were the most unnerving as Conifer Community Church tried to change the way it operated while maintaining the values of the church. Swearengin began sharing daily reflections on Facebook Live.
“I wanted people to feel comforted and not alone during this time, but also I just needed to get used to talking to a camera,” he said.
Guebert-Steward called the stay-at-home orders profound.
“It distills what is important, and what is important is the community, and we don’t have it right now except virtually. There’s a whole sense of family that is lacking because we can’t be with each other. This bothers people as much as it bothers me.”
Through it all, Swearengin said he’s been impressed with the tenacity of the mountain community.
“People really pull together in times of crisis, even when we can’t be together,” he said.
Boucher said while it is disappointing for the congregation not to meet in person, technology provides a way to connect.
“Our ability to connect is just amazing, and we’re thriving even while we shelter in place,” Boucher added.
Conifer Community Church is planning to host belated Easter festivities when the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
“It’s going to be a big celebration when we can all get back together again,” Swearengin said.