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 helps church see deep faith roots
The silver lining in COVID is that people involved with St. Paul Lutheran in Colville realize that God does provide, that their roots are deep and that they can withstand these challenges, said Patty Heath, the pastor.
"We did nothing online before this hit. Within four days we were online. Now we can reach some members who for one reason or another can't come to church. For those who can come to church, we reached families of people who want to join online, and we reconnected with folks shirt tailed in, so folks see that there is a different way to do church," she said.
The congregation has talked on paper about what it means to be a gathered community of Christ, to celebrate communion and how do that theologically appropriately when they can't meet together.
"Conversations are an outreach, a way to be together in a meaningful way, which is important to who we are as a church, especially when we can't gather in person," Patty said.
"We are pretty inventive when we have to be. God seems to provide a way," she said.
COVID has affected all the church does—worship life, small groups, Bible studies, staff concerns, men's breakfast, book discussion, quilting group, youth ministry, nursery care, vacation Bible school, building usage and meeting space for city groups.
"Church groups used to have difficulty finding space," she said. "We have not been allowing outside groups to use our building.
"It's been crazy. Everything has been new since March 16 of last year," she said.
"We did remote worship, no groups met and no ecumenical partners. In the phases, we opened and closed things and had to shift," she said.
Ecumenical work in Colville has changed, too, including the feeding ministry with other congregations.
Two or three times a year, churches would worship together. They also collaborated with agencies on a summer food program for school children and have a community garden.
Everything closed for a while except for the homeless lunch where five churches took turns to prepare a hot meal, Patty said.
Previously they helped serve a hot lunch once a month in person with fellowship and connecting people with resources. Then they prepared sack lunches they handed out with one person in building at a time.
For the Thanksgiving dinner, they worked with the health department to serve the meal to one person at a time going in and out of the building.
When interviewed, Patty estimated that half of the congregation was vaccinated. Stevens County as at 35 percent, saying local attitudes run the gambit from adamant vaxxers and to adamant anti-vaxxers.
The health department across the street has offered vaccinations and information.
"We have provided information and worked with folks trying to get them vaccinated," Patty said, noting that education is informal in "hanging out with people."
Since she got her vaccine, more church folks have been vaccinated.
"Our policies follow the health department, so we wear masks in the building. That has been hard for some. We are a fairly small congregation, which has allowed people to come back."
In the community, Patty sees more homelessness but less food insecurity, because people are using the food bank and feeding programs. SNAP and other relief benefits went up and more are on WIC cards, so at risk families do not need the food and lunch programs as much.
While food insecurity has gone down, Patty is concerned for people using CARES Act and other emergency funds that when those funds end many may be in desperate need.
"Housing is expensive and nearly impossible to come by," she added, telling of agencies having long lists of people looking for affordable rentals and expecting that in housing people will be desperate when extra funds are gone.
She trusts that with that awareness and as God has provided a way for the church to find new ways to work, God will provide a way for the church and community to respond.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June , 2021