SIERRA VISTA — During a time when people need positivity and a bit of hope, area churches are doing what they can to be that beacon of light.
Father Gregg Adolf, of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church, stood in the church’s sanctuary on Sunday, looked out over the pews and began mass just as he has for nearly three decades. The only difference: the pews in front of him were completely empty, not a parishioner in sight. But that didn’t stop him from holding daily masses.
“It was very uncomfortable at first (talking to an empty room),” Fr. Adolf said. “But it got better.”
Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommend limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer, Sunday services couldn’t be held in the traditional manner, forcing local clergy to come up with creative ways to serve their congregations. Pastor Renee Rico, of Faith Presbyterian Church, said since most of their congregants are older than 65, they decided to close the church for eight weeks in an effort to protect everyone.
“The main questions we asked ourselves is: ‘Can we sustain, (and) how do we give our members an experience of holy week and Easter?’ “ Rico said.
Adolf had the same concerns with this being Lent season. So, both Adolf and Rico, as well as many other churches, are using technology to provide a sense of normalcy and messages of hope for their churches and people across the country.
“We went old school to be successful,” Rico said.
Rico, who took over as pastor for Virginia Struder in December, created an audio recording of her sermon and sent it with a PDF of the order of the service and prayers to the roughly 180 to 200 members of the church. She said they don’t have access to strong internet for live streaming, so the audio recording was the quickest solution to have a Sunday service. This Sunday’s service will be a prerecorded video on the church’s website.
Not being able to gather in a large group is a bit more difficult — painful, even — for Faith Presbyterian Church, as they are unable to hold a memorial for Struder, who passed away from lung cancer last Friday. Rico said they would like to hold a memorial service for the family but will have to wait until it is safe to convene in large numbers.
Adolf ventured into the live-streaming world for the first time on Sunday. He said they had the cameras already set up, so it was a fairly easy transition to live-stream the mass. Adolf said they had 380 live viewers and 1,100 subsequent hits on YouTube.
“We had a tremendous response,” he said. “People are texting and calling us with positive feedback.”
Because the inaugural live stream was successful, Adolf decided to live-stream the daily masses, which can be found on the church’s website. St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church will have their lenten mission on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday via live-streaming as well.
“This is the toughest Lent for me,” Adolf said. “Being shut out of places (like nursing homes and hospitals) is so odd.”
Both churches are implementing resources and tactics to keep church groups and members connected while respecting social distancing. Rico said they have created a Google Voice number, 520-231-3122, for the community to call if they want to hear a 60- to 90-second message. Rico said they are also using Zoom to hold gatherings for the different groups organized by the church, such as adult Bible studies, etc.
“Social distancing is necessary, but social isolation isn’t healthy,” Adolf said.
St. Andrews had phone chains set up to encourage people to call one another and check in on those who are stuck at home during this time. The Knights of Columbus are also delivering groceries and picking up prescriptions from members of the parish who don’t want to leave their homes. Those who would like to utilize the service should call the church.
In these uncertain times, Adolf said he wants the community to remember one thing: “Prudence is a spiritual gift, but fear is the opposite of faith,” he said. “Be prudent. Don’t make decisions out of fear.”