As a pastor at Golden’s Applewood Community Church, Guy McCaslin is used to being someone people turn to for spiritual education and guidance. But if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught McCaslin …
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As a pastor at Golden’s Applewood Community Church, Guy McCaslin is used to being someone people turn to for spiritual education and guidance. But if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught McCaslin anything, it’s been that even a pastor still has a few things to learn.
“I’m very much a people person but I still don’t think I realized how much energy I get from being with my congregation,” said McCaslin. “I think there is a whole lot more energy in the preaching process than I realized. I’ve never been more tired than when I finish a Zoom sermon, I am just beat so that’s been very interesting.”
For McClaslin, the loss of the feelings of family and connectedness that come with gathering together has been the single most significant change the ongoing pandemic has had on church life.
“If you’ve ever been part of a church at all you know that so much of it is life being shared together on Sunday mornings and at other times during the week but being together virtually means that there is just not that closeness and that’s been enormous,” he said.
The temporary loss of that sense of connection, however, has given rise to new ways of approximating that connection. McClaslin said he personally has been making many more calls to the members of his 120-person congregation than he normally would.
Then there was Palm Sunday when the church’s small staff divided up the names of those in the congregation and made deliveries of a small palm branch and bottles of Welch’s grape juice (for communion) to their homes throughout the metro area.
“I’ve got to tell you that was so much fun,” McClaslin said. “We knocked on the door, set the stuff on the porch, backed away into the front yard and we got to see some of our folks in person. That was just a blast talking to them from 10 or 12 feet away.”
But even as the current crisis has created new opportunities and challenges for churches, it has also made the role they play in their congregation’s lives as vital as ever.
Rev. Wendy Williams, a Senior Minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, said many of her messages have focused on the need to truly identify and name the unique, and for many, overwhelming challenges and uncertainty they are facing as a result of the crisis while reminding people that the crisis is hitting everyone differently.
“It’s really important to normalize that and to name it,” Williams said. “And then there is also this piece we are obliged to do which is look at what we are called to do in this time. None of us can do everything can do something and then for those that are so taxed give people permission to name that for themselves. But for those that can, what is it that we are called to do?”
But while many local churches are still adjusting to the new normal of services conducted over Zoom, others are making plans to reopen.
At St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Golden, small groups were set to be welcomed back to mass beginning May 16. The church also noted online that it is working to provide more parishioners than our size limitations allow for access to receive the Holy Eucharist.
But services will likely not resume at both Applewood Community Church and Jefferson Unitarian Church for some time. McClaslin said his church has no plans as of yet to come back although staff are engaged in conversations with the congregation about how and when to do so while continuing to broadcast services over Zoom for those who do not yet feel comfortable returning. Meanwhile, Jefferson Unitarian Church will likely not resume physical services until September at the earliest, said church administrator Carol Wilsey.
“We want the reopening process to be positive,” said McClaslin. “Maybe even a sense of kind of celebration of `yes we finally get to be back together.’ But it won’t be the same as it has always been, we understand that and so we’re working really hard to just be to be thinking outside of the box.”
With the future of in-person gatherings still uncertain, Wilsey said she finds herself worrying about the immediate future and what it will mean for her congregation, particularly those who have been isolated during the pandemic. Kids, she said, are also struggling with doing religious education over Zoom on top of school and social activities that now take place on the platform.
“It seems like it’s going to be a really long time before you can have in-person gatherings and that’s one of the big things churches are all about,” she said. “And so that worries me because I think we’re going to have to assess and at least In the longer short term, we’re going to need to be more creative about what we do to make it better, especially for the kids. They don’t want to do another Zoom thing. They need something that’s real and more engaging.”
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