After missing a month’s worth of church services, Teresa Auten, Triplett United Methodist Church’s music director, went to the church’s choir room. She noticed her notes on a whiteboard about rehearsal schedules, guidance on what to wear for Lent and songs planned for the next three weeks.
“Reading those plans, alone in the choir room, written on the last afternoon when everything was completely normal, was what made me realize how very much will change after we are meeting together for worship once again,” Auten said.
Auten wondered how the choir could gather again without endangering at-risk members of the congregation. She said for a moment she was sure the answer was “We can’t.”
Places of worship around the country have made adjustments in a time of the coronavirus pandemic after government restrictions in the name of safety for all. Many churches in Iredell County have used technology to adapt and help congregations stay connected.
Nelson Granade, senior minister at First Baptist Church in Statesville, said his church has been streaming services since 2017. However, the church has increased its use of social media and started hosting Sunday School classes on Zoom. The church also hosts a prayer meeting every week.
Even after First Baptist’s congregation can meet in person again, Granade said the church would probably continue one Zoom Sunday School class for people who need to stay at home.
Church staff and deacons worked together to give every congregation member a call to see how the member was faring during this uniquely difficult time.
“Everybody is anxious, and they need to hear they’re not alone,” Granade said.
He added that he would like to see First Baptist continue to be proactive when reaching out to congregation members.
“This is the greatest opportunity the church has had to grow and change because they’re forced to,” Granade said, speaking about the Christian church in a general sense.
He said he was glad to see his congregation come together and grow during this crisis.
Mary Dye, senior pastor of Broad Street Methodist Church in Statesville, said her church had also expanded digital services and would continue to do so as the congregation can start meeting in person. Its streaming schedule includes a nightly story time for the congregation’s children.
“We have learned that people have inordinate, deep-well capacity for kindness, thoughtfulness, flexibility and creatively expressing their commitment to church and community,” Dye said. “People have, without complaint, adapted to the restrictions in a spirit of good will to all. That, above all the other ministries we value at Broad Street, is what we hope is the lasting implication of the coronavirus challenge.”
Bishop Keith White of the Lake Norman Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said he has seen his community draw closer as well as the congregation’s faith and gratitude has grown stronger.
As his church reopens, White said it was planning to limit seating to every other pew, sanitize surfaces after meetings, wear face masks and create smaller meeting sizes to keep members safe.
“While all of us are eager for a return to ‘normal,’ we recognize that we have changed through these events and there will be a new normal,” White said.
As she was standing in the Triplett’s choir room in Mooresville, looking at her own handwriting, Auten came to a similar conclusion as White. The church can and will persevere.
Auten quoted Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
She said customs were changing, but they will continue in new forms.
Like many other local churches, Triplett has stopped hosting Sunday School on campus. However, groups can meet in their homes or through video meetings. Streams of Bible studies are available as well.
As the congregation starts to gather at the church again, seating will be around tables instead of in pews and people who live together will sit together instead of with friends. These worship services will also be streamed as they have been for years.
Communion will change as well. Instead of dipping into a common cup, members will receive individual cups and commercially-made wafers. The congregation will no longer pass an offering plate but take tithes up to a plate near the altar.
Auten said worship would be led by small ensembles rather than a choir and rehearsals would be virtual, using prerecorded videos.
In the face of all this change, Auten remains hopeful. She said she believes Christians should adapt to be available, acting as the hands and feet of Christ while keeping themselves and others safe.
As the music director, she does wish to hear the many voices of a choir someday in the future. Hopefully, it will be safe to do so soon.
“The desire of my heart is to gather together, sometime near Thanksgiving, as many voices as I can possibly find to sing one great song of praise and gratitude,” she said. “I have already picked it out, and can’t wait to offer it.”
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