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Churches maintain services for worship during pandemic

By
MARY KAY McPARTLIN

No matter what denomination a person worships in, the church is an extended part of their family. The COVID-19 virus has disrupted church families and made it necessary for worship to adapt.

The March Michigan order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer excluded houses of worship from penalties for gatherings over 50 people, and the most recent shutdown order from Whitmer did not include churches.

This has left pastors and church leaders to determine how best to combine safety with the pastoral needs of their congregations. In Tecumseh, there are a variety of ways churches are operating during the pandemic.

Covenant Church on Milwaukee Road returned to in-person worship services on June 21. According to Pastor Richard Mortimer, seating is limited, and people are requested to wear masks, but not required. Services are live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

At Tecumseh First Presbyterian Church on Chicago Boulevard, in-person services are still on hold, according to Pastor Cathi King. There is online interactive worship using Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.

“We’ve made continuous adjustments to the way we offer worship, by incorporating a variety of voices, music, artwork and photography in prayers, songs and readings,” said King. “Our complete worship services are also available each week on our church YouTube channel. When it is safe and responsible to do so, we will hold fully integrated worship services with in-person and our online Zoom community, which includes people from outside our local area and congregation.”

Tecumseh Missionary Baptist Church on Occidental Highway added a Sunday service time so that people could spread out in the church, according to Pastor Brian Jones. The 9 a.m. service requires wearing a mask and the 11 a.m. service is mask optional.

The church uses chairs instead of pews, so the configuration of chairs is in groups with six feet of distance between them. After it was determined congregating outside was safer than inside, the church moved services out of the building.

“Over the summer we spent two months outside,” Jones said. “It was beautiful weather every Sunday.”

The pandemic has required creative thinking within churches so they can stay connected with their people. It’s also been a priority to assist people in the congregations to remain connected with each other.

“Obviously, small groups have either been gathering with masks and distancing, or online, while some are on hiatus,” said Mortimer. “We leave it up to each group to decide what’s best for them. There are no children’s ministries. No choir, but our worship leadership musicians continue to rehearse and lead on Sunday mornings. Meetings are either curtailed, postponed, or conducted through email. It’s all been good, as we remain careful, cautious, and unafraid.”

“First Presbyterian Church holds Bible studies, small groups and committee meetings online,” King said. “We have also continued our monthly collections and donations to a variety of community organizations throughout the year. Additionally, we had pop-up outdoor fellowship gatherings and participated as a partner in the Fresh Food Initiative, distributing food to the hungry in our community by drive-through.”

Tecumseh Missionary Baptist Church has created on online presence as well, to reach people who are not comfortable gathering in person. Both church services and Bible studies are uploaded to Facebook and YouTube for people to watch. “People seem to be keeping up,” said Jones.

“Our building has never closed, so anyone can come in for quiet time or prayer in the sanctuary or simply visiting with the pastor while socially distanced,” Mortimer said. “Email and texting are also positive ways to connect. And nothing beats good old letter and note writing. People are doing what’s best for them, in responsible ways. We trust that people will reasonably and rationally make choices that they believe are in the best interests of themselves and their families.”

According to King, First Presbyterian Church felt it best to keep the church offices closed while reaching out to its congregation and the community. “Although our building is closed to the public, people can call the church office, visit our Facebook page or website and receive weekly email newsletters to stay connected,” she said.

Jones’ congregation at Tecumseh Missionary Baptist Church is also connecting via phone and using mailings, and each Sunday the church bulletin is placed outside the front door for members of the congregation to pick up. “People can call and text and have been doing that,” he said. “We do a home guide. It gives people prayer updates, news and notes and Bible Study ideas. We mail it every week.”

For many churches, outreach is an important part of Christian ministry. Easing the negative effect of the pandemic on local families is important work.

“Our biggest concerns have been for those in our community negatively impacted financially by this pandemic,” said Mortimer. “We continue to help, both as a church and through community organizations we are networked with, folks who need a lift up.”

“We have thankfully fared well financially through this time thanks to the generosity of the faith community,” King said. “But we feel the loss of our integration to the community, as we previously hosted in-person events such as mission fundraisers for community partners, Christmas concerts, and a hospitality tent for the Christmas parade. It is our hope to return to these activities as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so.”

“God has been good to us,” said Jones. “We have been fine. There is less coming in but also less going out. For the most part, everybody has managed okay.”

Christmas church services are an important part of many families’ holidays. Celebrating the season is happening in a variety of ways, some following regular tradition and others incorporating something new for the season.

Covenant Church plans to have a Christmas Eve service at 5 p.m., which will be live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube, just like a Sunday worship service.

“First Presbyterian Church will share on Christmas Eve a Carillon Bell Concert via YouTube to celebrate thirty years of this ministry,” said King. “We will also relaunch a recording of our 2019 Christmas concert for all to enjoy in the days leading up to Christmas.”

Services at First Presbyterian will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. According to King, those interested can register at www.us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwkf-6spz4sGNRuzxvsc4rUpLQpOBN52f…. A confirmation email with information on joining will follow registration for the service.

Christmas Day services at Tecumseh Missionary Baptist Church usually average between 60 and 70 people. Jones isn’t sure how the numbers will play out this year, but Christmas Day service will be at 11 a.m. and there will be live feed in a side room with seating for 20 for those who want to avoid larger crowds.

“You will come in a different door and go in a smaller room,” he said. “You’ll still be with other believers, just a smaller number.”

For more information on what’s available at area churches, call their offices or visit the church website or Facebook page.

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