Returning to worship in person as pandemic wears on

by Camerin Mattson

COVID-19 has changed everything—including church. For months all the worship services in the Metropolitan Division were held virtually. Worship music, sermons and Bible studies have reached corps members on their couches or at their kitchen tables via the internet.

But as government restrictions for public gatherings eased, some corps have been able to resume in-person meetings. While services aren’t quite the same, many are finding hidden blessings in the time apart and new perspectives on why they gather in the first place.

Gathering Carefully

In addition to wearing face masks and social distancing, when people come to the Chicago Temple, Ill., Corps on Sundays they have their temperatures taken before entering the sanctuary and answer a brief questionnaire. They’re encouraged not to linger or mingle after the service. Major Clara Braddock, Temple corps officer, notes that all these precautions impact the community feeling she usually encourages and enjoys at the corps.

“It isn’t ideal to test people before they can enter the building. It’s very sterile,” she said. “It isn’t easy greeting people and not hugging or seeing their faces. It isn’t easy singing and praising God and not seeing the joyful expressions on faces. But these are the times we live in, and until there is a change, we have to do this in order to meet.”

Some corps have gotten creative. “We’re using an ‘offering truck’ to maintain social distance during  offering time,” said Lt. Leta Marin of the East Chicago, Ind., Corps. One of their staff drives a remote-controlled truck around the spread-out rows of church attendees to collect any offerings. It’s COVID-appropriate and entertaining.

Mixed Feelings

The first Sunday back after months apart was momentous for corps. “Our first Sunday was a joyful opportunity to see our corps members and friends together as one body again,” said Major Marcelo Orbe, Belvidere, Ill., corps officer. “To be able to worship as an in-person congregation again is a blessing, and it was a grateful moment to see my brothers and sisters’ faithfulness and love to our Lord and Savior.”

Lt. Nancy Rivera, who leads the Mayfair Community Church (Corps) Hispanic congregation with her husband, shared, “In our culture, it is not quite the same when we cannot give a handshake or a hug to our brother and sister in Christ.”

Surprise Blessings

As difficult as time apart has been for corps congregations, it’s come with some surprise blessings.

The Des Plaines, Ill., Corps realized they had new people watching and participating in their worship services since they were available online. “It actually enlarged our borders and made the different ministries  available for people even from different countries,” said Envoy Florinelvi (Ody) Giraldo, associate for Hispanic ministries.

Cecelia, a woman in their congregation, had been praying for years for her grown daughter Patricia who lives in Mexico City. Patricia watched the services via Facebook and accepted Christ. “The family is very excited and feels blessed with this new life in Christ,” said Envoy Ody.

Lessons Along the Way

Everyone is aware the future is uncertain. Some experts predict a rise in flu and COVID-19 cases this winter that will necessitate sheltering in place again. Through it all, Salvationists are keeping their eyes open for the lessons to be learned.

“I hope that people come away with a better sense of what the church is,” said Captain Xavier  Montenegro, Metropolitan divisional program secretary. “The church was never a building; it was always people.”

 

 

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