Exercising coronavirus caution means most area worship centers have suspended services that weekly unite scores of people in worship, and church leaders lament the loss of community.
“We are created to be relational, so not having the close face-to-face relationship does not allow us to be what God created us to be outside of the basic family unit,” noted Pastor Clifton Bullock at Union Baptist Church in Waterford. “God has gifted us all in various ways and we fail to use those gifts when we are not together.”
As some area churches decided late last week to suspend services, UBC was among many that sought to remain open for corporate worship. A late Friday announcement by Gov. Phil Scott to restrict the number of people gathering to 250 led the church on Route 5 to introduce two Sunday morning worship services to ensure the imposed limit was not exceeded.
By the beginning of this week, the maximum number of people had been lowered to 50, and regular worship was suspended at UBC and in most area churches.
New Beginnings Christian Church in St. Johnsbury also conducted services on Sunday, but has decided to suspend gathering for now.
“Our leadership met last night and we all agreed that we are to be submitted to those placed over us in authority, as well as it is the wiser, safer and we feel Godly thing to do,” Pastor Rick Menard wrote in an email.
He also spoke to the loss of communal worship.
“One of the most important things that is missed is the face-to-face fellowship; that is a BIG part of what gathering does for people,” Pastor Menard stated. “For some, the Sunday service may be the only time that they have human touch and interaction. We are a church that hugs, so that is a big missing piece.”
Said Rev. Doug Carter of the Danville Congregational Church, “There is no way to overestimate just how important direct face-to-face connections are. The in-person experience is very much at the heart of what church is and has always been.”
Pastor Kevin Daniels of East Peacham Baptist Church agreed.
“There is a unifying community component experienced when we worship God together,” he wrote.
East Peacham Baptist Church is planning to continue meeting for worship.
“As a church, we remain strong in our trust in the Lord,” noted Pastor Daniels. “We are exercising caution and wisdom, with those with compromised immune systems or older choosing to stay home. However, we are still planning on having worship services and other events, as planned.”
Several churches that responded to the newspaper’s inquiry, that are suspending corporate worship time, are set up to broadcast their services to people at home and utilize technology to continue their ministries.
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Littleton, N.H.: Daily devotional for the season of Lent via email; a more robust presence on the church website and FB page. “And I hope to learn how to video record and post a short sermon for each Sunday,” noted the Rev. Curtis E. Metzger.
Concord Community Church: Corporate worship has been suspended and service will now be accessible via live stream. “The elders are reaching out to members and regular attenders through email, by phone, and even through online video chat platforms,” noted Pastor Joshua Abetti.
Danville Congregational Church: “Public worship services will move to a live-streaming event only. All church meetings and programs will be held via Zoom video conferencing,” noted Rev. Doug Carter. “The experience of gathering in the same of virtual space is what we’re looking to try to accomplish.”
Faith Bible Church, Littleton, N.H.: For at least three weeks services will be recorded and posted online, mainly Facebook, every Sunday morning.
Lyndon Bible Church: Live stream services Sundays at 10:30 a.m; considering online small groups for the church’s life group ministry and online encouragement video and email updates. “We are also looking at making our wifi available from our parking lot for people needing internet access,” noted Pastor Joel Battaglia.
New Beginnings Christian Church: “The great thing about technology is that we can put a service on line so easily,” said Pastor Menard. “It isn’t like being there, but it will be the best we can do for now.”
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington (area Vermont Catholic churches): Streaming Sunday Mass starting this Sunday at 10 a.m.; TV Mass – Live on WCAX Sundays at 6 a.m. and posted on Diocese web page; some parishes are streaming Mass on their own social media; Diocesan social media sharing daily prayer, inspiration and resources: https://www.facebook.com/DioBurlington/.
Union Baptist Church, Waterford: Services will be streamed via Facebook and available on the church’s website: www.ubcstj.org.
United Community Church, St. Johnsbury: Sunday services live-streamed on Facebook at 10 a.m.; worship materials on the Facebook page to read along with the prayers and responsive readings, and sing along on the hymn; meetings by Zoom videoconferencing and by telephone conference calls.
Faith-based Messages of Hope
The newspaper asked area church leaders “What message does the church offer in these frightening, uncertain times?”
Pastor Daniels: “The message today remains the same as it has always been — Faith in God is necessary for temporal and eternal security, and it is the bedrock when storms arise.”
Pator Abetti: “Coronavirus stops many people in their tracks and faces them with an existential crisis, forcing them to ask, “What is my security? What is my hope in this life? What will get me through this? To whom do I turn in trials like this?” The church’s answer to those pressing questions is and has always been Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Bullock: “Our church sign says, ‘God says, I am listening, Philippians 4:6-7.’ He is waiting for our response to Him in these difficult times. He is far greater than the coronavirus, but do we see Him that way? There is hope in Him if we are willing to come to Him by faith in Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Christopher Coyne, Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington: “My motto, ‘Trust in the Lord,’ has gotten me through many difficult times. Lean on the Lord and know that He will guide you through to better days.”
Pastor Joel Battaglia: “In these extraordinary times I see an extraordinary opportunity for the church to be who we are as Christians by loving our neighbors and serving our community and sharing the love of Jesus and our faith in the face of the fears many are experiencing.”
Rev. Carter: “Just knowing that God is there with us and always has been, that’s where I’ve found strength and the ability to cope in the past, and while the circumstances are different, that hasn’t changed.”
Rev. Curtis E. Metzger, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Littleton, N.H.: “I recently sent this prayer from our Book of Common Prayer to the parish in my weekly email: ‘O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’”
Pastor Nick DeYoung, Faith Bible Church: “God is still watching over us and will guide us through this trial. We are asking our people to remember that the church is not the building we meet in but the people who are followers of Jesus. We are mobile, active, and looking to engage our community in creative new ways.”
Pastor Elisa Lucozzi, United Community Church, St. Johnsbury, in a sermon streamed live on Sunday: “This is a time to spread a pandemic of love. Let’s pray that it is contagious!”
Pastor Menard: “We are encouraging people to not walk in fear, but in faith and confidence in God while doing what we can practically to remain safe. We also see this is an opportunity for us to let the love of Jesus to shine through us to those around us. There is hope in God!”