Churches connect online during crisis

A lone worshipper waits for Sunday service to begin. Tempe churches like Dayspring Methodist found their places of worship nearly empty on Sunday morning as they began to transition to online services. — Photo courtesy Dayspring UMC

By Noah Kutz

Nearly every part of daily life has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from average residents to the world’s most powerful leaders. Nobody, many have said, has ever seen anything quite like this.

What, then, will churches do?

In times of distress, many have found respite in the various houses of worship, whether they consider themselves regular churchgoers or not.

Churches in every community often serve as the cornerstone for relief and aid when darker times loom. So what can people do when even those establishments are forced to close their doors to the public?

According to some pastors in Tempe and Chandler neighborhoods, the church must uphold its roots in Ekklesia. The Greek word is found throughout the Bible’s original translation, and its meaning in English is similar to that of “church” or “gathering,” as described by Pastor Jeff Procter-Murphy of Dayspring United Methodist Church in Tempe.

Other pastors have defined Ekklesia as “called-out ones,” similarly emphasizing a call to worship. Says Procter-Murphy:

“The most important word I have to share is that we are not alone. God is with us. Sacred writings abound with this message, notably Psalm 23 and Romans 8.

“One of the challenges for faith communities during this season of physical distancing is how to bring folks together remotely.”

Despite such challenges, churches in every community have nonetheless adapted to the changing circumstances in an effort to both prevent the spread of COVID-19 and remember their call in Ekklesia to gather.

By utilizing live-streaming, churches have made it possible for their congregations to attend each service remotely through Facebook or YouTube and view from any location. This is the method a number of churches in this community have chosen, including Dayspring, First Baptist of Tempe and St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church.

Arizona Community Church says its services will be recorded and then streamed. It plans to continue the streaming even after regular church services resume.

Pastor Roger Ball of First Baptist said online worship services are being offered via the church’s Facebook page.

“In these difficult times, our church is calling, texting and emailing as many people as possible to offer assistance,” Ball said. “Many people have become more sensitive to God since the COVID-19 crisis started. Man needs God’s compassion and truth and much less politics.

“How the world manages and reacts to the coronavirus could end up leading the world to more problems such as economic ruin for many.”

Bill Meiter, pastor of Arizona Community Church, said, ““We have been putting out daily video devotions on our website and Facebook to help encourage and inspire people… the response has been amazing. People feel connected, encouraged and blessed as a result. The message to the community is do not be anxious about anything. Keep praying to the Lord and let his peace guard your heart and mind.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix responded to recommendations
from President Donald Trump and Gov. Doug Ducey by transitioning all weekday and Sunday Masses in the diocese to livestream services, as well as cancelling all other public gatherings hosted by the church until further notice.

This transition, however, does not come without hope and encouragement from church leaders. The Rev. Robert Aliunzi of St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler reached out to his parishioners in a letter.

“At this time, most importantly, I encourage you to increase your prayers and devotion. With so much negativity and fear growing, let us continue to be a beacon of light and offer hope.”

Services for each church mentioned above are found on their respective websites.

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