Easter faces brighten service for Westminster church

Congregation, pastor surprise each other with photos for livestreamed service

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Familiar faces are big part of a church service.

Pastor Barb Martens, of Westminster’s Advent Lutheran Church, said she and a small team have done her best keeping regular services going for her congregation during the height of the COVID-19 quarantines. The congregation has been able to hear Martens, along with Vicar Aimee Pakan, and see their faces on the screen.

But the congregation’s faces, Martens said, that’s what she misses the most.

“All of my energy comes from those people in the pews,” Martens said. “It’s really been like learning to perform without an audience, and to stay deeply engaged in the material. It’s been a real learning curve for me.”

The congregation decided they needed to do something about that, especially for Easter. They snuck back into the church Saturday night and filled the pews with balloons and pictures of the congregation placed where they’d be sitting if these were normal circumstances.

“People have been emailing us pictures to the office and I will go and get them printed and tape them to the pews, so she can see those faces,” said Tonya Hanson, a member of the congregation.

The plan was to greet Martens in the church’s parking lot, with families staying in their cars but flashing their lights and honking their horns to greet her.

Then, some would return home, watching the church’s Easter service live-streamed on Facebook from the comfort of their own living room. A handful would stay in the parking lot, watching the service on their cell phones and tablets.

It was an opportunity, too, for the congregation, hailing from all over the northern metro area, to see other in person — even if they had to stay in their cars.

“This community is so tight-knit, and we’ve really been missing seeing each other,” Hanson said. “We’ve been Zoom-meeting like crazy, but we do miss seeing each other.

But Martens had a surprise of her own, and had been collecting pictures of the children among her congregation. She calls them up to the front during each service and they sit and listen to message tailored just for them during normal times.

“I asked the parents to send me picture of their kids, because they’re what I miss the most,” she said. “Usually, I sit here and they sit around me. This time, I’ll be sitting with their pictures.”

So she was surprised to see the swaying balloons at the front of the dark sanctuary when she snuck in herself early Sunday morning to set up her photographs.

“This really is terrific,” she said.

Church member Joan LaRose said, who manages the Facebook page and website of the church, said each virtual service has been drawing about 40 to 50 internet-connected devices — like smart phone, a tablet or a computer. Some wait and watch the services later via Facebook and LaRose said she also burns a copy to a DVD, which is delivered to members who don’t have an Internet connection.

“I also manage the feed during the presentation,” LaRose said. “If people make a chat comment, it’s me answering back.”

In all, Pastor Martens was joined by a skeleton crew — Vicar Aimee, LaRose monitoring the feed, a cameraman, organist, trumpet player and some people to manage processions and keep track of the rooms lights. Marten’s Easter service began with a dark sanctuary and bare altar. All decorations, candles and plants were removed on Maundy Thursday.

“Usually, we have the kids come back and decorate the altar at the beginning of the service,” Martens said.

This year, Martens greeted her remote congregation and then slipped away to put on her vestments while her small crew put the candles, crosses and potted plants back on the altar.

“I’ve been complaining that I miss seeing my congregation’s faces,” she said. “Boy, they sure took care of that, didn’t they?”

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