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Social distancing mandates rule out gathering in church buildings, so churches have turned to live-streaming, social media and more to reach their congregations

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY DALLAS HALL
 - First Baptist Church Pastor Mike Phay looks out at photographs from his congregation while live-streaming sermons to members' homes. Phay is just one of several pastors who have had to address church-goers online.

When people are asked to stand at least 6 feet apart and gather in groups no larger than 10, churches have to get creative on Sunday — and the rest of the week for that matter.

This is a fact that several Prineville churches are embracing in the era of social distancing, and thanks to current technological advantages, they have been able to bring church to members of the congregation even though they are at home. Several church pastors have turned to social media, live-streaming and other online platforms to keep in touch with people.

"I'm finding myself 'back' on social media after a long and intentional hiatus, trying to encourage and stay connected there," said Mike Phay, pastor of First Baptist Church. "We have also ramped up our use of Zoom for face-to-face meetings. I'm hoping to encourage our home communities and our youth group to utilize Zoom as well for prayer and Bible study."

Pastor Larry McGarry at First Assembly of God admits that his church is not doing a whole lot in this unsettled time, but that hasn't prevented them from considering a few options to stay connected.

"We're trying our hand on YouTube and maybe we'll give Facebook a try as well," he said. "We're working at keeping in touch via email and doing some phone calls as needed. We're taking prayer requests through our phone system and our website."

Mike Wilson, pastor of Prineville Presbyterian Church, said he has also turned primarily to email and phone. Once a week everybody in the church gets a call from a deacon, he said, plus Wilson is calling people in the church, and many are taking upon themselves to call others as well

"They're not going through this alone," he said. "We're here, and Jesus walks with them too."

In order to simulate a true Sunday church service, pastors are utilizing a variety of communication options from the old-fashioned telephone to the latest options in online video platforms.

"For our worship service, we're attaching our prayers, confession, sermon and sending blessing in a pdf that is emailed to the congregation and friends of Prineville Presbyterian Church," Wilson said. "The email also has a link to the YouTube upload of me presenting those prayers, confession, sermon and sending blessing. That goes out early Sunday morning. Then at 10 a.m., when we'd normally gather for in-person worship, I'm in the sanctuary praying for our congregation and friends. We'll even do a virtual Lord's Supper April 5."

Phay said that First Baptist Church transitioned to a full on-site live-streaming service the Sunday before last. The week prior was pre-recorded.

"I'm really thankful for tech-savvy people who are handling all those details," he said.

Chris Cookston, pastor of Prineville Community Church, said they are also livestreaming church services "with Scripture readings, prayers, sermon, and music on the Lord's Day from their chapel."

For Tollie Rogers, pastor of Ascent Christian Church, the transition to online church was not quite as drastic. The church had already been livestreaming services for the past three years.

"We are live on Facebook at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings from the Ascent Studio ... aka my office," he said.

However, not all things are status quo for the church. Rogers points out that their children's program looks quite a bit different and they are now reaching out to families in the church through the mail. 

"We send our lessons and crafts that we would have been doing at church in the mail to the kids so that the family can work on them together," he said. "On top of that, the elders here at the Ascent have stepped up our shepherding. We are calling all our members and making sure they are doing OK, especially the widows or the singles who are in the high-risk group. Our goal is to make contact at least once a week and with the people who are at high risk of catching the virus more often."

Though local pastors and churches are facing new challenges and trying their best to deal with a difficult situation, Wilson said he sees benefits in shaking up the status quo and doing things differently.

"This is certainly providing tremendous opportunities to not only re-examine how we 'do church' and how we 'be church,' but also to drill deeply into God's always-creating Spirit," he said.


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