In times of trouble, churches have always been a place of solace.

Churches are closed and congregations have not come together since mid-March because of coronavirus social distancing, but that hasn't kept pastors and church members apart in their hearts, minds and actions.

"We are affected, but learning creative new ways to be the church. We are the church, not the building. Even though we aren't gathering physically, our heart spaces are open and connecting. God is good!" said Pastor Barbara Barry of Trinity Lutheran Church, Greencastle.

The Echo Pilot reached out some Greencastle area pastors about how their churches are responding to the pandemic and here's what they had to say:

Antrim Brethren in Christ Church 

Answered by:

Rob Gowing, pastor, music and worship, administration

Question:

When did you stop holding church services and other activities?

Answer:

Stopped as of Sunday March 15.

Question:

Have you been able to continue church services online?

Answer:

Yes ... our service is always live streamed, but this Sunday was our fourth week of live stream only.

Question:

Are you in touch with members of your congregation online, via phone or in person?

Answer:

Yes ... all of the above.

Question:

What are you doing ... praying, reading Scripture, counseling, etc.?

Answer:

Yes ... all of that, but not the same for everyone, depending on what the need is for a given individual or family.

Our children's director (Sarah Layton), our youth director (Brent Hey) and our women's ministry director (Allison Trobaugh) are reaching out to their families with things to do, home curriculum for the whole family, Bible studies and encouraging Zoom meetings of various sizes and focus within their groups.

Our congregational care pastor (Casey Hurst) spends a lot of time on the phone or in texts and emails, and he is attempting to mobilize members of the congregation to do the same. This lightens the load for all, but keeps the congregation connected, and gives many people a new purpose and ministry during a difficult and alienated time.

Question:

Was your church using technology before and has it been enhanced during the pandemic?

Answer:

Yes ... we were using it previously, but the pandemic has blossomed our technical creativity.

Question:

What special events would your church normally have during Holy Week? Are they being done in any modified versions?

Answer:

Normally we have a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service. This year we had "Jews for Jesus" booked to lead us through a complete Seder, with meal, on Thursday. That of course has been canceled, but we are now referring our people to the Jews for Jesus website, (https://jewsforjesus.org/) where people can sign up to be led through a Passover celebration online, at a time that suits their schedule.

As usual, Easter Sunday services are always the culmination of Holy Week. We will do our best online ... but have also promised our congregation that when this has all passed, and we are able to come back together, whatever the date ... we will celebrate Easter again ... together ... the way we always have.

Question:

Are there any passages in the Bible you are relying on or find especially relevant at this time?

Answer:

Psalm 94:19 — When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 121:1-2 — I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Romans 15:13 — May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

1 Peter 5:7 — Casting all your cares on him, because he cares for you.

Deuteronomy 7:9 — Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

John 16:33 — I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Psalm 103:17-18  — But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

Deuteronomy 31:6  — Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Psalm 84: 11 — For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 —  Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

Zephaniah 3:17 — The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

 Evangelical Lutheran Church 

Answered by: Pastor Martin Horn

Question:

When did you stop holding church services and other activities?

Answer:

The last service was March 15. Our office is open on reduced schedule and our emergency food bank has continued. All other onsite activities have shut down.

Question:

Have you been able to continue church services online?                                                                                      

Answer:

Yes. We quickly shifted to such services and managed not to miss any                                                                                                                           Question:

Are you in touch with members of your congregation online, via phone or in person?

Answer:

I have the emails for about two-thirds of the congregation and have used that for notices and such. I have been using the phone quite a bit as well.

Question:

What are you doing ... praying, reading Scripture, counseling, etc.?

Answer:

We do prayer and Scripture devotions by Facebook and other needs and contacts by phone.

Question:

Was your church using technology before and has it been enhanced during the pandemic?

Answer:

We have been improving our technology in the past few years. Recently, we had started putting audio recordings of sermons on line. Suddenly, we had to go into the world of video-streaming and editing. Luckily, my son has a computer media job and recently added a few gadgets to his private stash. It has been a godsend.

 Question:

What special events would your church normally have during Holy Week? Are they being done in any modified versions?

Answer:

Palm Sunday procession, Maundy Thursday Communion and Good Friday Service of Darkness (Tenebrae) are a part of our Holy Week offerings. We are still planning online versions of the services. However, we have to rethink these services because some of the elements that work in a physical service would make terrible video (such as near darkness and silence). On the other hand, we will take advantage of some of the flexibility taping makes and expand Easter outside one sanctuary. (We already did a remote group reading for the Passion on Palm Sunday.)

Question:

Are there any passages in the Bible you are relying on or find especially relevant at this time?

Answer:

I have a special place for Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Question:

Anything else you would like to add.

Answer:

Among the oddest change for me: Since the service is taped during the week so it can be edited for viewing Sunday morning, I wake up Sunday morning without much to do, other than send out the notice the service is up. It changes the routine of the week greatly.

First United Methodist Church 

Answered by: Pastor Ryan Whisel

Question:

When did you stop holding church services and other activities?

Answer:

We began to suspend our worship and ministry gatherings on March 22nd. This was also encouraged by our church leadership in response to Gov. Wolf’s request to limit in-person gatherings.

Question:

Have you been able to continue church services online?

Answer:

We have! One of the fun things that has come of this is that our online worship videos are done in connection with our sister church State Line United Methodist Church and Pastor Steven Small. We work together creatively to produce parts of our worship service in recorded format and premiere them together at the same time to worship in spirit.

I have also started doing a mid-week devotional video as a way to offer some further encouragement from God’s Word. They are also on our YouTube page and social media pages.

Question:

Are you in touch with members of your congregation online, via phone or in person?

Answer:

While I am not visiting with anyone given the shutdown in our state, I have been in touch with a number of folks via Facebook chat, text and phone calls. Our congregation has been very good about reaching out to one another as well. That really has been a joy to see the church coming together even though we cannot be in the same place right now.

Question:

What are you doing ... praying, reading Scripture, counseling, etc.?

Answer:

I have offered prayer and encouragement with those I have spoken to, but I have also regularly offered to help with grocery shopping or other needs as they arise to help if someone is uncertain about going themselves.

Question:

Was your church using technology before and has it been enhanced during the pandemic?

Yes. We regularly recorded our children’s messages and sermons for those who want to either re-watch them or couldn’t be with us on any given Sunday. They are all on our YouTube channel and we keep the four most recent videos on our website www.fumcgreencastle.org/sermons.html so anyone who wants can check them out.

Question:

What special events would your church normally have during Holy Week? Are they being done in any modified versions?

Answer:

Typically we have held a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service. Due to the current circumstances, I am finishing up some modified worship where I am hoping others may be able to participate in them together via video. The hope is we remember that as we are apart, we are still the connected church through the Holy Spirit’s presence among us all.

Question:

Are there any passages in the Bible you are relying on or find especially relevant at this time?

Answer:

There are plenty of great passages that offer reminders for us as God’s people. Romans 8:38-39 has always been a reminder of God’s unending love for us no matter our circumstances in this world. I have also always been particularly moved by the Psalms because they remind us that we can experience a wide range of emotions and God can handle even the harshest of them. Psalm 130, a word of lament, has struck me. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” it starts off. There’s a deep, painful longing and even as the short psalm concludes, it calls for us to keep our hope in God and unfailing love. I think the church does well when it remembers that we can lament the brokenness and suffering the world is witnessing right now and also remember that God is still with us because of the empty tomb of Easter.

Question:

Anything else you would like to add?

Answer:

Throughout the history of God’s people, when crises have arisen, people of faith were some of the best when it came to responding with love, compassion and mercy. My hope and prayer is that we once again show that our faith is not just a feeling or nice thinking, but is really one of a changed life that is reflected in how we show one another acts of love. Even though we need to practice social distancing from others, I pray we can also continue being a people called to love our neighbors in mighty ways.

 Greencastle Church of the Brethren 

Answered by: Pastor Jesse Miles

Question:

When did you stop holding church services and other activities? 

Answer:

March 15th was the last service in the sanctuary.

Question:

Have you been able to continue church services online? 

Answer:

Our March 22nd service was audio only on our website. The March 29th service was a video on our website. The service was edited down to prayers and a message. 

Question:

Are you in touch with members of your congregation online, via phone or in person?

Answer:

Members have been mailing cards and short letters to others in the congregation. Deacons have been making phone contacts.

Question:

What are you doing ... praying, reading Scripture, counseling, etc.?

Answer:

Mostly connecting. Talking. Asking if there are any needs to be met.

Question:

Was your church using technology before and has it been enhanced during the pandemic?

Answer:

Nothing beyond sound system and projection of some hymns. I am scrambling to learn this "Facebook Live" thing and all it can do.

Question:

What special events would your church normally have during Holy Week? Are they being done in any modified versions? 

Answer:

Palm Sunday service with Love Feast. Easter Sunday Sunrise Service, followed by breakfast together, then Sunday service. At this time we have no plans to do anything beyond a video service.

The denomination is doing a Maundy Thursday Service via the Internet, open to everyone on April 9 at 8 p.m. with leadership from across the Church of the Brethren. The service will be live-streamed, and also will be available as a recording after that date. More information to come. Connect at:

www.brethren.org/lovefeast2020

Question:

Are there any passages in the Bible you are relying on or find especially relevant at this time?

Answer:

Psalm 46:10 — Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 23:4 — Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Trinity Lutheran Church 

Answered by: Rev. Barbara Barry

Question:

When did you stop holding church services and other activities?

Answer:

We never stopped church services or activities. We're just doing them in a different way. We stopped all activities in the building on March 15.

Question:

Have you been able to continue church services online?

Answer:

Absolutely. We held our first videotaped worship service on March 15th and have been learning new ways to be the church since then. We have videotaped each Sunday and midweek service and put them on our Facebook page, Website and Facebook. We have held prayer meetings by Zoom, a videoconferencing software.

Question:

Are you in touch with members of your congregation online, via phone or in person?

Question:

Online and phone. I have a list of folks I call every week because I'm worried about them. I'm sending out emails twice a week teaching folks how to be faithful during this time. I make suggestions about different ways to use the directory to make connections and post community volunteer ideas. We have a box outside the church doors for food pantry donations. We email a weekly enews announcement sheet. Those folks who don't have email get everything mailed to them once a week so they can stay connected as well.

Every day I personally choose a different group of the congregation to call on the phone to check on them. That way I get to the entire congregation on a rolling basis. It is amazing how many folk are having life issues that have nothing to do with COVID. The virus just turns up the volume on the pain. Life continues even in a pandemic.

With the stay at home order, contacting in person is unsafe and puts everyone in personal danger. If someone needed face to face, I would stand outside the window and we would pray over the phone. I did have a graveside service. Attendance was limited. It was hard  We practiced social distancing. I had to keep my hands in my pockets to keep from hugging. That's been the toughest for me as a pastor. When people are hurting, a phone call feels so inadequate.

Question:

What are you doing ... praying, reading Scripture, counseling, etc.?

Answer:

In addition to email and personal calls we are making great use of Zoom. We're holding prayer meetings, Bible study, Confirmation and committee meetings: council, youth group planning team, finance. It's a wonderful way to connect with each other from our homes.

Question:

Was your church using technology before and has it been enhanced during the pandemic?

Answer:

We used a screen for worship and email, of course. Let me put it this way. I have learned so much new technology and new vocabulary in the last few weeks that my brain synapses are firing so rapidly I am quite sure I glow in the dark. We now upload, download, video conference and tape our services putting them on Facebook, the website and Youtube. It's amazing! We are beginning to talk about how to do things differently when we begin to physically gather again in our sanctuary space.

Question:

What special events would your church normally have during Holy Week? Are they being done in any modified versions? 

Answer:

Lutherans are a liturgical church and we honor the church calendar. Holy Week is an experiential time of walking with Jesus to the cross. Yes, the services will be somewhat modified because of needing to be taped. We will have taped services for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We stripped the altar for Holy Thursday and will have a modified version of Tenebrae (Service of Light and Dark) for Good Friday. Because it seemed to be wrong to not gather for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we'll be offering a Zoom time of prayer at 7p.m. on both those days. If there's interest, we'll continue weekly Zoom prayer until we can gather together in the sanctuary again.

Question:

Are there any passages in the Bible you are relying on or find especially relevant at this time? 

Answer:

Two: "One who trusts does not panic" — Isaiah 28:16. "For God did not give us a spirit of fear but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline" — 2 Timothy 1:7.