Impact of COVID-19 and vaccinations on Communities of Faith
Being neighbors means being there for each other
For Arianna Arends, pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cheney and Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist (ELM) Campus Ministry, being neighbors during COVID means being there for each other, be it with vaccinations, mask wearing or food access.
"We act because we want to help each other out," said Arianna, a fourth generation Spokanite and life-long Lutheran.
The congregation stopped worshipping in person in March 2020. It went to online and mailed worship services, which for the small aging congregation was challenging. Not everyone is adept with computers.
"We felt fragmented. We started phone groups. Each leader called five households to see how they were doing, and if they needed anything," she said.
The council would call with announcements and communications.
They primarily used YouTube for sharing recorded worship services, but did some meetings, book studies and Sunday morning fellowship on Zoom. People liked the flexibility of watching worship on the YouTube video, Arianna said.
"We've reflected on how we'd like to go back to 'the way things were.' It's hard for a leader to remind people we can't do that, the world has changed," she said. "We need to be other-focused, love our neighbors as ourselves. Harder for some is to think of other people first and to put ourselves into other's shoes."
They started back in person with an outdoor service on Palm Sunday. Then they went back into the building on Easter. Now they ask when they can sing and have communion.
Singing will happen, but under the governor's guidelines, and they can cautiously do communion, in an unfamiliar way to be safe.
There were no deaths from COVID in the congregation. One person was hospitalized.
The quilting ministry, men's group, group for Lutheran Community Services and Al Anon, which closed are slowly opening up as small groups.
"In the church probably at 75 percent, everyone at age to be vaccinated has at least one. I'm surprised, because vaccination became political, and I worried it would be more of an issue," Arianna said.
One person volunteered to be part of a trial for a vaccine. Most everyone in the congregation does not understand why folks do not want to be vaccinated.
"I'm pleasantly surprised that everyone wants to be vaccinated. We haven't done much education on it," she said.
Council decided if people can show their vaccination card, they can sit next to a friend.
The congregation has been aware of particularly hunger in community.
"Even before I arrived three years ago, they opened up a free community pantry, where people could drop off or take food whenever they needed it, without proof of need or paperwork," Arianna said.
In the pandemic, stories of people in need affected folks. They are almost overwhelmed by the level of donations the are receiving. The free pantry has grown, with volunteers filling it twice a day.
There was one call during pandemic from a community member looking for help with rent, so they asked the congregation to help them and some did. They usually refer people to Cheney Outreach.
ELM Campus Ministry went online in spring 2020 when Eastern Washington University no longer held in person classes. Students were challenged because professors had to teach in a virtual format. Professors overcompensated with more course work, assignments, tests and books to read. The students were overwhelmed, Arianna said.
There has been outreach to alumni, who need support as young adults do being the last hired and first to get laid off.
More students graduating this spring are not sure if they will have jobs, volunteer opportunities overseas or in the U.S. with vaccines or without vaccines.
"It is uncertain whether programs will start or what they will look like. It's already uncertain for anyone in that time of their life, but now it is more uncertain," she said.
Arianna has no sense of how many students are vaccinated on campus, but many who can be are. One had a roommate who came down with it.
"We formed a tight group in our campus ministry," she said.
Even though they haven't been able to be together in person, Arianna started Cross Connection boxes, sending themed boxes to EWU students for free, or offering the subscription box option to parents, grandparents and members of congregations buying boxes for young people in their lives.
The boxes a include book on the month's theme, plus devotions and fun stuff like candy, pens, water bottles or reusable straws.
Each month, the campus ministry had a book study related to the campus ministry's monthly theme: Faith and Voting, Racism, Creation Care from Indigenous Views and Gratefulness. They emailed the social work department, and 25 students signed up.
The campus ministry before March 2020 had weekly meeting Monday nights for a meal, conversation and community building.
"We also served as the clean-up crew at the monthly Feed Cheney free community meal and grocery pick up," Arianna said. "ELM is looking forward to being in person again in the fall at EWU. I know the students are now even more hungry for community and certainly need a place to share joys, sorrows and questions with their peers."
For information, on Emmanuel Lutheran, call 235-6300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; on ELM Campus Ministry, call 954-5886 or email email@example.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2021