Tim DeFor

Tim DeFor, lead minister at First Christian Church in Norfolk, stands at the front of an empty sanctuary with the Bible next to him. The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is forcing local and area pastors and ministers to use non-traditional ways to keep their congregations spiritually connected while they are prohibited from congregating in large groups.

The Rev. Patrick McLaughlin learned how to live-stream last Wednesday.

Up until this past week, the pastor of the Catholic parish cluster that includes Sacred Heart in Norfolk, St. Leonard’s in Madison, St. Peter’s in Stanton and St. Patrick in Battle Creek had resisted utilizing the technology to deliver messages and homilies to parishioners. But up until this week, the idea of not gathering for Mass was unthinkable for most Roman Catholics.

“I can’t remember a time in history where Masses have been suspended,” McLaughlin said.

The threat of transmitting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has McLaughlin and pastors of other Norfolk and area churches using a variety of platforms to keep their congregants spiritually connected while honoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mandate to cancel assemblies in which 10 or more people would be gathered.

“We’re still strategizing,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve begun live-streaming daily Mass, and people will be able to check our parish social media pages and our parish website for more details on that.”

McLaughlin said the parish cluster also is looking at video conferences for families to do home Bible studies and providing tools so families can strengthen the “domestic church,” or church of the family.

“We’re really going to try to use this opportunity to help people who maybe have the luxury of time to reconnect with each other and love the Lord in a meaningful way,” McLaughlin said. “If there is a silver lining in all of this, that might be the silver lining.”

At Grace Lutheran Church in Norfolk, the Rev. Chris Asbury is planning to conduct Sunday services using Facebook Live at its regular gathering time of 10 a.m.

The church also is sending out Sunday school resources to families and children in the church, as well as recording and uploading regular children’s devotion times.

Earlier in the week, Asbury was one of about 450 church leaders around the state who took part in a conference call with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.

“One of the things he said is that even if the government mandate (on gathering size restriction) eases, we’re still likely to be limited on how we can congregate in a short time frame,” Asbury said.

During that call, Asbury said the governor asked that church leaders do three things: Assist in whatever ways they can with daycare necessities; be mindful of and help those who are in financial turmoil because of the current situation; and make sure the most vulnerable get the care and supplies they need.

The Rev. Lee Weander, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, said now is the time for Christians to shine like the light of the world Jesus talks about in the Gospel of Matthew, especially when it comes to caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable.

Weander said those people, many of whom are over 80 years old, have seen some dark times — World War II, the Vietnam War, the collapse of the World Trade Center and maybe even the Great Depression — where it felt as though the world was about to end, but God saw humanity through those times and used his people to love and care for other people.

Christians are being called to action and need to respond by asking, “How do we help them get to the grocery store or get medications or create that social interaction with them?” Weander said. “It’s not good for man to be alone, God said in Genesis, so how do we continue to be connected in ways that maybe are a little bit different than we normally do?”

Our Savior also is working with tools like Zoom to get children together to have conversations, and it is sharing with parents the curriculum so they can take part in Bible studies with their children at home.

Weander said the church also will be broadcasting its Sunday service on News Channel Nebraska, a feature that First Christian Church will be offering for its Sunday service, as well.

Tim DeFor, lead minister at First Christian, said the church has live-streamed its services for a long time but has now reformatted to fit in an hourlong timeslot. It also will start sending out a daily devotion this Sunday that will include a staff member of the church reading scripture and delivering thoughts and prayer.

First Christian also is utilizing social media and email to deliver a churchwide video message to the congregation that addresses what’s going on and how people can connect on a spiritual level when they’re unable to physically gather.

The church has recorded worship time and teaching time that will go out to youth and small group leaders who will host small-group discussions on laptops and electronic devices using the Zoom platform. It also utilizes a live web platform so people can watch live services or speakers.

DeFor said First Christian also is looking for ways to have some of its congregants call older people who are connected to the church to check on them and help get whatever supplies they may need.

“We’re encouraging people to reach out with love and giving people ideas on what they can do with their families to deepen relationships, help them see some opportunities in the midst of the chaos,” DeFor said.

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