The events of the last two months have shaken up routines at local churches, where weekly worship is finding a new home online.
Sunday morning gatherings that once took place in buildings all over the peninsula are now broadcast live over Facebook, YouTube and Zoom. The shift from in-person services to online content has been difficult for many churches that had to quickly assemble equipment for streaming.
Pastor John Day of Longbranch Community Church praised the work of some of his churchgoers who dedicated time to setting up a recording system. “I can arrange the preaching, the teaching, the music, that sort of stuff which is my gifting and passion, but it’s really helpful to have people that have that kind of know-how and expertise,” Day said.
Several pastors said they appreciated how the crisis has allowed people to offer their unique expertise.
“I’m blessed to have a 14-year-old son in the house, so he’s helped me with this stuff,” said Pastor Dan Whitmarsh of Lakebay Community Church.
Pastor Tim Stobbe of Waypoint Church found, to his surprise, that a change of scenery helped keep things simple and relatable for families stuck in self-isolation.
“After the first week we chose to do everything from our homes, rather than try to communicate from the building,” Stobbe said. Subsequent sermons have been broadcast from his living room and backyard. “I wouldn’t have expected that, but it definitely felt like communicating from our home was a better option for us.”
The lack of an audience, at home or in the church building, has been unsettling for pastors accustomed to delivering sermons to a live audience. “It’s really hard to preach to a camera when you’re used to preaching to faces,” said Pastor Anna Bonaro of Key Peninsula Lutheran Church. “I didn’t realize how hard that transition was going to be for me. I asked people to email me pictures of themselves, so I have a few pictures set up so I can look at these people smiling.”
While the shift to the internet has been embraced by KP churchgoers, pastors also pointed out that some could be left behind by such a transition.
“I’m very aware that there’s a lot of time and energy that’s going into online meetings, and that’s good, but I’m also aware that it’s missing a lot of people,” Whitmarsh said. Churches are seeking alternate solutions to reach congregants who may not have consistent internet access. Pastor Ed Longabaugh of Grace EPC reported mailing out text copies of his sermons to those who couldn’t attend online services.
KP pastors praised the willingness of their congregants to check on each other, and to ensure the vulnerable have their needs met. “I’ve had a few phone calls that I expected to take five minutes and they’ve gone for over an hour. People are hungry to connect,” Whitmarsh said.
“Since we can’t get together personally, we’re spending a lot more time keeping contact with every one of our congregants over the phone on a regular basis,” Longabaugh said. Many churches reported setting up call lists or contact systems to ensure no one was forgotten.
Although most pastors seem eager to get back to normal as soon as possible, Pastor Bonaro shared her spiritual perspective on the quarantine and the service aspect of following the stay-at-home order. “We’re called to care for the sick and, right now, by staying at home you’re caring for the sick. You’re helping all those people that need you to be home right now. I think that’s a powerful thing to think about.”
Lakebay Community Church, Longbranch Community Church, Grace Church EPC, KP Lutheran Church, Waypoint Church and Wellspring Fellowship have officially moved services online for the duration of the quarantine, and are either postponing or canceling other events. Key to Life Church of the Nazarene and Key Peninsula Baptist Fellowship spokespeople were not available for comment. More information on how to access online services and how to stay in contact can be found at each church’s website.