Virus worries impact Oregon faith communities
Recent developments have posed challenges for religious institutions during a time when those institutions are needed the most.
As the toll of Oregon residents testing positive for the coronavirus/COVID-19 inches higher daily, sweeping measures to combat it brought the closure of bars and restaurants' in-house services along with a statewide order from Gov. Kate Brown on Monday, March 23 for residents to stay at home for all non-essential activities.
Those closures and the truncated size of gatherings were instituted by Gov. Brown at the behest of health officials. The far-reaching consequences have affected everything from concerts and festivals to sporting events at all levels.
The effects on area churches have been tremendous as services and activities have been cancelled across the board, a profound development since it comes at a time of uncertainty.
"We are facing an unusual time; for most of us we have never experienced something like this before," said Woodburn Foursquare Church Executive Pastor Kim Arredondo.
"There is such a benefit to receiving the care of the church in uncertain times, for us to be closed is counter intuitive," echoed Rev. Cynthia O'Brien, who ministers at First Presbyterian Church of Woodburn and Aurora Presbyterian Church. "But (healthy practices) are vital right now, so we are finding creative ways to reach out."
Guided by the Presbytery, that creativity includes live streaming services.
"Not having Sunday worship (gatherings) is hard for people; it hurts our heart not to be able to be together—our worship, our music, our prayers, all the things that make us a community. We have to think of different ways to bring the church to people," O'Brien said.
She noted that the live stream helps as the music and iconic sights from the church can be delineated through the medium.
"We are communicating with our membership and extending pastoral care via email, phone and social media. I call people, read Scripture and pray over the phone. Sometimes we sing," O'Brien said.
Foursquare has taken similar measures, such as sharing Senior Pastor Luis Molina's Sunday sermons online via Facebook.
"Our various ministries will post videos occasionally on Facebook," Arredondo said, explaining that smaller Sunday gatherings among parishioners will be part of the adjustment.
"These are groups that will meet in different homes, watch the service together, worship together and pray together," Arredondo said.
She also encouraged church members explore new pursuits and reach out to each other.
"During these days we are also given opportunities to engage with neighbors and friends and family," she said. "Possibly you could offer to go to the grocery store or pharmacy for one of your elderly neighbors. Call and talk to people on the phone who aren't able to leave their homes during this time."
First Presbyterian of Woodburn is also a hub for the community services Meals on Wheels and Family Building Blocks.
"Family Building Blocks has ceased classroom services but continues working with clients through phone and FaceTime," O'Brien said. "They serve 75 families in the Woodburn area, and they will drop off diapers and food on doorsteps as needed. "
Meals on Wheels continues on schedule, but it is a day-to-day decision. Normally a couple dozen seniors would meet for the dining room service, but that service has ceased.
O'Brien said the church has a grade-A kitchen with scrupulous sanitary practices. Delivery people have heightened that practice with gloves and maintaining the six-foot distance recommendation.
"They thought of maybe going only once a week with a big package of frozen foods; however, a big part of Meals on Wheels is checking on people every day, and we don't want to lose this important service," O'Brien said. "Thanks to our faithful volunteers."
She recommended that anyone who knows someone who might need the service, or anyone interested in volunteering, can contact Beth at the Northwest Senior Dining Services office at the church, 503-981-3470.
Hoodview Church of God Pastor Steve Kufeldt is responding to the challenges similarly.
"The group-size restrictions have affected us, as it has all churches. We began an online version of our Sunday morning worship time last Sunday, and starting March 22 until the bans are lifted, we will only offer an online version," Kufeldt said, noting that the church is using Facebook and the church website, (www.hoodview.church) as its conduits.
"We also are making contacts with everyone in our church family on a regular basis, so in one sense, more ministry is happening now than when we had a 'normal' weekly schedule of large-group worship and small-group meetings," Kufeldt said. "Those personal contacts, besides giving encouragement and praying with them, also seek to learn if there are needs that we can help meet or get for them."
Meanwhile, Pastor Mike Smith at Woodburn Christian Church said he's kept abreast of the incessant changes issued due to the virus while exploring ways for the church's parishioners to be comfortable.
"We are trying to adapt each day to the opportunities for that day. Has the COVID-19 virus affected our normal services and activities? Yes. How? That seems to be different for each day and changing almost daily," Smith explained.
"We are attempting during these difficult days to be a safe place for people to seek God in worship and service," he continued. "We are trying to adapt to the seemingly ever-changing guidelines and restrictions health and government officials are handing down. We are encouraging our parishioners to observe those guidelines and restrictions in their daily lives."
Smith said church staff has been diligent about cleaning and disinfecting areas of the church that are used frequently. Woodburn Christian is also ensuring its members are not isolated.
"We have people who are reaching out through phone calls and other means to constantly check in on all our parishioners who are sequestering in their homes.," Smith said. "Most of all, we are praying for God's spirit to grant us wisdom, strength, and courage as we be His church to the community and world."
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