Impact of COVID-19 and vaccinations on Communities of Faith
Marijke Fakasiieiki, The Fig Tree's development director, surveyed rural congregations in the region and gathered stories for this summer issue on the impact of COVID and vaccinations on their ministries.
COVID changed ministries at Okanogan churches
COVID changed the ministries of Jack Schneider, pastor at Conconully and Omak United Methodist Churches (UMC).
"Because of concerns about elderly in the congregations, we closed the churches starting March 16, 2020," he said.
Jack began recording his sermons in his woodshop every week and for major holy days, uploading them to YouTube under the title, "Sermons from the Woodshop."
He continues that outreach even after the churches opened. He has more than 60 sermons available to view there.
Jack had to stop his ministry to nursing homes, because of COVID restrictions, so he did visitations by phone instead.
With the Conconully UMC being the only church in town, he serves as chaplain for whole community, doing all funerals and weddings. Under COVID all funerals were gravesides, outside.
"As the only church in Conconully and the surrounding area, people travel 30 miles to come to the church, which was built in 1903, and in-person worship was dearly missed," he said.
"We tried to do Maundy Thursday by zoom, but everyone prayed and sang at the same time. Everyone at different rates. It was chaos. For Easter Sunday, we did better. We had a pianist play and they sang but were all muted," he said. "We did same thing for communal prayers. We did communion remotely, with bread and grape juice consecrated from a distance. We trusted in God's grace to travel distances to bless."
Conconully continued its food bank and outreach ministry.
"Our outreach is being present and being at people's homes and volunteering in the food bank," he said. "That changed.
Both churches started in-person worship about the third week of Lent, when people started to come back together. The Omak church is small, with 15 people coming on Sunday and spreading out well. Conconully took out half the pews to accommodate 30 to 35 attendees each week. Numbers vary with visitors coming from the state park and nearby resorts.
"Thankfully, every person in the Omak church is fully vaccinated and 94 percent were fully vaccinated at Conconully.
The Omak church closed to NA and AA groups in March 2020, as well.
When interviewed, Jack said the groups were considering reopening to 50 percent, but that is hard to do in an NA or AA group because people show up as they need to show up. They were considering splitting their meetings because the NA groups are large.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2021