Impact of COVID-19 and vaccinations on commmunities of faith
Rural church rethinks, restructures its ministry
COVID has led Wilbur Community Church not only to grow emotionally and spiritually but also to move from its food-based fellowship and outreach.
Katherine Tuttle, the pastor, said church leaders have been intentional about working on listening skills and staying calm during this anxious time.
The church has been rethinking and restructuring how it does ministry, since it shut down in-person worship last spring.
"Now we are doing in-person worship, it's not the same as before." Katherine said. "We are now thinking of our mission and identity, which is different than before COVID. They used to be huggy and hands on."
The church started a monthly online book club, even though everyone was vaccinated, because they like the online format.
In the community, the church is partnering with Lincoln County Help Rural Resource Victim Advocates to work with women who face domestic violence and abuse. They are also reaching out to the local school.
Previously, the church held large food-based group events that drew crowds. There were several potlucks a month, food and coffee after worship services.
"We stopped most of the food-based ministry, except for the food pantry," Katherine, said
The church celebrated Shrove Tuesday with pancakes, held salad luncheons to help people in need and hosted spaghetti feeds after fires to raise money for families.
"What could we do besides food? We decided to do an outdoor rummage sale, with people distanced," she said.
When a young man in the congregation needed a kidney transplant, members ordered yard signs that said, "We Love Cole." They set them up outside by a table, and people made donations to put a sign in their yard.
"Typically we would have done a luncheon, but this was a hit," she said, "The entire town could support his operation. We are continually rethinking how to raise funds respectful of people's safety and limitations in the pandemic."
Wilbur Community Church partnered with Lincoln County Health twice as a vaccination site for first responders. The church offered its large fellowship hall, which has space for people to be distanced. The room is climate controlled, and a sanitation team comes through regularly.
A nurse from the county hospital came to answer questions in a non-judgement way, she said.
Katherine said Lincoln County Health later set up a mass vaccination site in the school for people 65 and older. Speakers told of risks and benefits.
Katherine has not asked members if they are vaccinated, but saw many church members there.
"We share information grounded in scientific understanding, informing people where to go, what the vaccine is and why it is important," she said. "We have a good vaccine rate in the area."
She checks Lincoln County stats regularly, and found 38 percent of those 18 and older are fully vaccinated, while 64 percent of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated.
Katherine said the church is handling the variety of attitudes in a loving and respectful way, while providing people with accurate information from trusted resources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), County Health and medical professionals in the community.
She knows there is no convincing vaccine deniers, but some on the fence have been persuaded. Meanwhile the majority feel it's good for them and the community, she said.
Having more people vaccinated has reduced the anxiety level about in-person worship. The church requires face masks and social distancing for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Some will come back when they are vaccinated, she said.
More people are coming because they know they are vaccinated and others are, too, reducing anxiety about safety, Katherine said.
"In our reviewing, we learned we had a hole in outreach to homebound members, so we'll fill that gap after the pandemic," she said. "We have a stronger online presence and continue that because we have had feedback that people feel closer to the church because of the online choices. The pandemic took us out of our comfort zones to use technology."
"We also pushed in-home spirituality, said Katherine, who preaches and teaches about care for self, family and neighbor, and doing more than just Sunday morning worship as the center piece of faith life.
In Lent, the church offered six weeks of online contemplative prayer with an online video series.
"We have seen how spiritual practices in members' homes reduce stress and connect to communal life," Katherine said.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2021