As people isolate themselves during the coronavirus pandemic, worship leaders remind followers God is right beside them.
Church communities across Connecticut gathered in prayer digitally on the morning of Palm Sunday, with virtual services streaming live online and recordings of Mass posted to organizations’ webpages for all to experience.
The Rev. Margret Hofmeister, pastor at First Church of Christ Congregational in New Britain, offered her message in a video that staff helped her record ahead of time. Music director James Gower and others contributed.
“Although we are not together in the physical sense, we are held together by God’s spirit,” Hofmeister told members.
This marked the second Sunday the church offered the service on film, quite a different experience — though a well-received one — for the large congregation.
“It’s a very moving experience for me,” church member Peter Kilduff said. “Here we are isolated, understandably so, but I still consider myself part of the Christian community. It’s nice to know my wife and I can sit in our home and still be united spiritually. It’s a new Christian experience for me, but I find it a very rewarding one.”
Margret was cognizant of the fact some members did not have the technical means to watch the event online, so she mailed hard copies of her message to these households.
“We’re trying to stay connected as community,” she said. “There’s been a lot of grieving for what was. Grieving for what we don’t have, like being able to see loved ones. Pastoral care is all about letting people know that God is with them, sharing their pain. Even when it might not feel like it, He’s there.”
Pastor Jason Jakum of Bristol’s Hillside Community Church encouraged his members to embrace their suffering, like the earliest Christians.
“We as Americans, we don’t like to be inconvenienced or have to suffer for any reason,” Jakum said. “But if you look at the early church, they wore suffering as a badge of honor because they felt it demonstrated their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Embrace your suffering. It produces character and endurance, which leads to hope.”
He joined fellow worship leaders from different churches and other religious denominations in a meeting recently, using remote conferencing service Zoom.
“We are a team, in this together,” Jakum said. “We’re helping each other out through all of this.”
Reach out to people you may not typically interact with, he encouraged listeners, adding, “Love your neighbor.”
Bristol’s First Church of Christ Congregational streamed Palm Sunday service live on its Facebook page. A marker on the post counted how many devices were tuned in, topping off around 50. Rev. Kristen Kleiman reminded members the church has an emergency assistance fund for them if they need financial support due to job loss or other factors.
“We pray for all who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and for all the medical workers who are caring for the sick,” Kleiman said. “It’s OK that we are carrying this great weight of anxiety. You are carrying it with us Lord.”
Across town, meanwhile, church leaders at St. Gregory the Great distributed palm leaves to parishioners from the building’s front steps. A drive-through distribution of palms also took place at St. Matthew Church in Forestville. Volunteers wore protective gloves and greeted people through car windows, from a safe distance.
Hofmeister and her staff had palms ready before the start of Holy Week, but decided to adorn the chapel with the symbolic greenery to ensure against the spread of sickness.
“Each church has to offer what’s appropriate for their congregation and what’s within their means,” she said.
South Church Pastor Jane Rowe also recorded Sunday’s service ahead of time, posting pictures of film equipment set up in the Main Street church to its Facebook page.
“The next two or three weeks are going to be very difficult across our nation,” Rowe said in her sermon. “The reality of the virus will hit home as more people we know fall ill with it. There may be people we know and love who fall seriously ill or die… It is Holy Week friends. It is time to remember that Jesus went through the most unimaginable of human suffering, and He accompanies us through our suffering. We can bring to him our fear and uncertainty and know He understands it completely.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at (860) 801-5097 or email@example.com