Local churches have turned to social media to reach their people in a time when gatherings of more than 10 are discouraged.
“In my early years as a pastor in training, I was taught that our methods will change, but the message (of the Gospel) will never change,” said Larry Lundstrom, pastor of Community Baptist Church.
“(Recently) I found this wise counsel and advice confirmed. Thankfully we (at Community Baptist) have implemented a live video streaming, using Facebook Live, and an iPhone app, Switcher Studio. I am grateful we have a team that is able and ready to make things happen,” Lundstrom said.
Fr. Innocent Dresdow — archpriest of Holy Resurrection Cathedral — said the Cathedral is “effectively closed” until the coronavirus crisis passes. But designated priests and altar servers will continue to serve Divine Liturgy, which culminates in the Eucharist — Lord’s Supper. Parishioners will have access to the services, prayers and reflections via the internet. Confessions will be available through the phone.
St. Herman’s Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with Holy Resurrection, has allowed students, under the direction of Bishop David Mahaffey, to leave the school so that they can spend time with their families in Alaska villages. Some of the classes resume in a down-scaled fashion.
The coronavirus threat has “affected us totally,” said Fr. Frank Reitter, priest at St. Mary’s Catholic parish in Kodiak.
“Our primary concern is to keep everyone safe,” Reitter said.
Spiritual reflections and services are available every day on St. Mary’s Facebook page. St. Mary’s has closed the thrift store and cannot receive donations, Reitter said. St. Mary’s Catholic School is also closed.
Randy Cook, pastor of the Kodiak Bible chapel, said, “People have been taking advantage of livestream (services.) Things are changing ... Satan thrives in an atmosphere of isolation, and he utilizes fear.” Cook added that the present crisis presents “awesome opportunities” for people of God to let their light shine. “Be a beacon of hope and calm amidst the storm.”
Major David Davis of the Salvation Army is one of those “beacons.” He has volunteered organize a team that can do grocery and other deliveries to the house-bound. One of the churches started a phone tree to contact those who can help out.
Lola Davis of the Salvation Army said the church’s store remains open. “We’re making sure our employees have gloves, sanitizers to wipe everything down with. We’re trying to maintain our programs amidst the chaos.”
Pastor Rony Hardin of Abba Father Christian Fellowship said the church’s weekly ministry, which feeds the homeless, has undergone a change due to the coronavirus threat. For the time being, rather than feeding the homeless in the church’s fellowship hall, church volunteers will hand out bag lunches to the homeless at the door.
Hardin said that people should continue to be prayerful about the current crisis. “Believe it or not, God allows (something like this) to get our attention,” Hardin said. “He wants us to turn back to Him.” Hardin quoted verses from the Book of Chronicles to make his point. If the people who are called by God’s name pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, God will hear from Heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.
Mark Overbeek, pastor of Frontier Southern Baptist Church, said his congregation has been taking precautions to deal with the coronavirus threat. On the last Sunday the congregation met before the “more than 10” guideline was put into place, the church leaders cut out the greeting time.
“A lot of hand sanitizers were available. Folks did a deep-clean in the nursery. We’ve been calling the more vulnerable people” to see how they can be helped, Overbeek said.
One of Frontier’s members — a medical doctor — addressed the congregation on how to stay healthy in this crisis.
Father Chip Mills, visiting priest for St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church, said two health workers in the parish addressed the congregation on staying healthy.
“We feel like we had pretty good advice,” Mills said.
The virus “has drastically changed our schedule, practice and how we share the truth of hope of God’s Word and life-changing reality of Jesus Christ,” said Lundstrom.
Mark Behenna, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, said some of the church practices changed at the onset of the coronavirus scare. People kept their distance in the “passing of the peace,” in which parishioners often shake hands or hug. The Wednesday prayer breakfast was canceled.
Behenna will continue to reach his parishioners through meditations, which he sends via email.
He said it is his hope and prayer that the coronavirus scare will turn people “back to the Lord. We need not fear things of this world. (God) has conquered all that. We can live without fear.”
Overbeek said that his recent sermons, based on the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, have been timely. The message is to put one’s trust in God, and not in circumstances, health or wealth.
“God is control,” said Paul Winegeart, pastor of Berean Baptist Church. “He is well on top of this. We can take comfort and encouragement from that. Nothing happens without God’s knowledge. (That message) is very comforting ... at a time like this,” said Winegeart.
In dealing with the panic triggered by the coronavirus, Pastor Pisa Faumui of Kodiak Christian Fellowship points to a Scriptural promise: “‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.’ No matter what happens, the love of God continues to cover us and pursue us,” Faumui said.
“Pray to God and be strong,” said Pastor Jun Belen of the Kodiak Filipino Bible Church. “This is only a temporary pandemic. Have faith.”
Pastor Shannon Panthin of Oceans United said that the social media outlet is helping him and his congregation provide Scripture-inspired messages throughout the week. He and his wife, Dawn, meet with several other church members in the sanctuary for the Sunday morning service, which is videotaped. The service can be accessed by other members through livestreaming.
Panthin is also livestreaming Oceans’ First Steps program, which ministers to newcomers to the Christian faith.
He said that the church was already using social media before the coronavirus outbreak.
Panthin also holds weekly sessions, via social media, with other Christian pastors and church workers throughout the world. “We’re becoming a different type of church,” Panthin said.
He said that last Sunday’s sermon was applicable to the situation we are now in. Jesus tells His disciples that when the world is plagued with various hardships to “look up, because your redemption draws near.”