St. Wenceslaus, Warren Community Fellowship prep for Easter in the coronavirus era

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Pastor Cary Wacker of Warren Community Fellowship and his church's 'virtual congregants' — represented by photos attached to chairs in WCF's sanctuary — are preparing to share Easter services online on Sunday, April 12.An Easter like no other.

For a lot of people, that's what Sunday, April 12, will represent.

An Easter with none of the egg hunts that have long been part of American life.

An Easter without family dinners or meals at a favorite restaurant.

An Easter with empty pews in almost all of the country's Christian churches.

Thanks to the impact of the novel coronavirus, all those things are true, but they aren't all that's true about Easter.

Churches are still open, still excited about this most important date on the Christian calendar and still determined to find — and share — meaning along the way.

Two of those churches in South Columbia County are Warren Community Fellowship (56523 Columbia River Highway in Warren) and St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church (51555 S.W. Old Portland Road in Scappoose).

While neither will host the traditional big Easter gatherings in their buildings Sunday, they nonetheless have found ways to come together and find community in the era of coronavirus. Warren Community Fellowship will post its Easter Sunday service on Facebook at 9 a.m. Sunday, while St. Wenceslaus will air its Easter Sunday service on YouTube on Sunday.

"We'll be broadcasting all our services online," said Pastor Cary Wacker of Warren Community Fellowship, noting that his church would post four different services online during Holy Week. "We've been doing online services for a number of years so all the infrastructure was already in place to do both Facebook and YouTube."

St. Wenceslaus, meanwhile, is newer to the world of online church services, but learning and adapting quickly.

"We've done it for two weekends in a row now. We record the Mass on Saturday evening and then … we post it so people can see it on Sundays," said Father Charles "Chuck" Wood, who has also started a parish-wide email blast and a blog on the church website. "We're not live streaming, but we're taping it ahead of time so that people can watch it and we started a YouTube channel — that's part of what the stay-at-home pandemic has pushed our innovation to."


"The Christian message is that the power of God's love won't let the coronavirus pandemic get in the way of what he wants to give us."

Charles "Chuck" Wood,

St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church

While much of church life is centered around human interaction, that face-to-face piece is missing because of coronavirus restrictions and puts even more emphasis on staying connected remotely. At Warren Community Fellowship, the church is using technology to help people stay in touch.

Warren Community Fellowship's live-streamed services use online "hosts" who greet each person by name as they log on to watch and also post scripture in text form as it's mentioned during the sermon.

Further, online viewers have the ability to text with each other during specified portions of the service.

"We have a meet and greet time during the service where I'll tell people it's OK to talk during church and they can say 'Hi' to each other by texting," Wacker said. "And they're commenting back and forth on Facebook or YouTube during that time in the service and get responses from people."

While St. Wenceslaus isn't in the same place technologically, the church is still finding ways to connect with its congregants. Following the direction of Archbishop Alexander Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland to keep Catholic churches as open as possible, St. Wenceslaus is allowing small gatherings of no more than 10 people at a time in its sanctuary while also following social distancing guidelines.

"We're certainly complying with federal and state directives … but we have determined that in the spirit of (Oregon Gov. Kate) Brown's directive, if people can get outdoors and go walking and hiking and those sort of things for their emotional and physical well-being, that spiritual health and spiritual well-being come under that umbrella," Wood said, adding that the church monitors visitors' proper distancing and requires them to use hand sanitizer as they enter and leave the building.

With their online services in place and their policies regarding coronavirus continuing to evolve, both churches are now focused on the message of Easter in a time of trial.

"The Christian message is that the power of God's love won't let (the coronavirus pandemic) get in the way of what he wants to give us," Wood said. "People of other faiths or even of no faith might see in this the power of love to overcome even the deepest struggles and tragedies of humanity."

"We pray for revival, but if you look at all the great revivals, they come out of crisis," Wacker said. "If you believe that God is good, and we do, and if God is sovereign, and he is, then all of this is going to work out for his good and his pleasure and his glory and his plan and we've just got to trust him."

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