April 24, 2020

Area churches continue to provide services and community connections in innovative ways

By Lorraine Glowczak

Margaret Atwood, the well-known Canadian author, recently wrote in “The Guardian” about her own personal adjustments to this recent pandemic and her perspective on attending events remotely. She writes: “These [online events] are multiplying like mice, since talks, festivals, fundraisers and shows that would once have been analogue, with real physical bodies gathered together in celebration and glee, quaffing, chattering, entertaining and applauding, have all been cancelled, and substitutes have had to be devised.”

Meeting remotely has become the norm in almost every life situation these days, including places of
Zoom  video conferencing is one of the many
alternative and innovative ways churches stay connected and
reach out to the greater Windham and Raymond communities.

Area churches are each finding their own unique and innovative alternatives to maintain a sense of community and spiritual fulfillment during the pandemic. In a faith tradition where it is imperative that a community gather in person to experience ritual and fellowship, churches have had to adjust and sail into uncharted practices.

For those who live near or around the Windham Hill United Church of Christ (UCC) located at 140 Windham Center Road, they get a free concert from the church’s Carillon as it produces beautiful song and music produced daily. The bell concerts last approximately one-half hour at various times of the day and the feedback has been positive. Neighbors state it offers a bit of hope and peace during times of uncertainty.

Windham Hill UCC member, Claire Olson-Crocker stated that in addition to providing the Carillon music, members of the church stay connected in many ways. “Our pastor sends out a daily email, with words of inspiration, encouragement and prayer,” she began. “Members check up on each other regularly and offers of help and support have been the norm. At a time when church participation has been waning, in general, it is helpful to point out how much a church community can be a support both during good times and bad. Our church members are a second family to us, always up for anything, whether it be support, socializing or church functions.”

In addition to members making phone calls to one another, St. Ann’s Episcopal Church live-stream their services on Facebook every Sunday at 9 a.m.Our organist comes in during the week and records the music for the weekend on the laptop of a volunteer, Dan Wheeler our Junior Warden who is also our videographer,” explained Rev. Tim Higgins. “We then send out the scripture passages as well as the lyrics for the music on our weekly e-news every Thursday for the coming Sunday. My children come with me on Sunday to help with the readings, therefore three of us make Sunday morning happen. We are all quarantined together therefore, we are safe.”

Rev. Higgins stated that they have reached former members of the church who have relocated to other states.  “I also believe that we are attracting community people who don't normally attend church just by word of mouth. This is all not ideal, but we are keeping the connections to our Church in place and folks know that they are loved and cared for.”

Faith Lutheran Church, Unity Center for Spiritual Growth and Windham Hill UCC all use the Zoom online videoconferencing platform to stay connected as a community of faith.

We like Zoom because it is live, in real time, and enables interaction among participants,” explained Pastor Jane Field of Faith Lutheran Church. “I made the intentional decision from the start that I would not go to the empty sanctuary and be there alone with my computer, leading Sunday worship with that empty space as my background. Instead, I lead from a rocking chair in the living room of my home, with a fireplace, sofa, bookcases and paintings in the background. All of our members are joining these gatherings that include Sunday services, evening prayers and bible studies from their own homes, too, which makes the playing field very level, very warm, and has, ironically, led us to get to know each other even better by seeing each other in our ‘native habitats.’ It has also led to some happy, unexpected moments like the night when we had concluded a compline prayer service and suddenly everyone was lifting up their pets to the computer screen and introducing them to the congregation, or the Sunday after Easter when we could all admire a gorgeous Christmas cactus blooming in a member's kitchen.”

In addition to their Zoom services and prayers, Unity also uses Facebook Live.We are holding our service at the usual time on Sunday and I am able to bring in my music director live and so we do an abbreviated version of in person order of service,” stated Rev. Patricia Bessy of Unity. “Then, after the service, I host a Zoom coffee hour.”

Unity also offers other Facebook Live and Zoom events during the week to provide a continuation of inspiration and connection. Various activities and classes that include a “Faith Lift” gathering, a 30-minute meditation, live inspirational music by the music director and an online book group are options that the community can join to stay connected. “I reach out with a call or text when someone comes into my mind and many of the folks in the community reach out to those they are connected with,” Rev. Bessey said.

Pastor Sally Colegrove shared the Windham Hill UCC’s experience with Zoom and how they approach the present circumstances: “On Sundays we are holding Zoom worship services at 10 a.m. and anyone is welcome to join us. All they just have to do is send me their email address so that I can send them the zoom address and password. The Carillon is rung as a message to our congregation and our neighbors that we are still here, still thinking about them, still maintaining a presence here on Windham Hill even as we move to Zoom gatherings. We are thinking about how we can respond as a congregation to the needs of those around us. We have helped out with a small delivery of fuel oil and are ready to assist if we hear of those who are in need of food. Several of our members, mostly our college young people, have volunteered to do grocery shopping for elders and we have paired up shoppers and those in need. I have been calling the members of the congregation to check in, and many of our folk have also been checking with one another to stay connected.”

Rev. Debra Girard states that North Windham Union Church UCC is strong and resilient. “This is definitely an unusual time in our world,” she said, explaining that their church is using social media to keep in contact with their congregation. “Sunday’s prayers and Sermon are posted on our Facebook account; our website and I send an email. Although we cannot gather together in our traditional way, we continue to be a faith community, just in a different format. We want to thank all the essential workers, nurses, doctors and those who keep our community running. We look forward to the day we are able to gather in our sanctuary.”

Prior to her retirement on Easter Sunday, Rev. Nancy Foran of Raymond Village Community Church also used social media to remain in contact with her congregation. Additionally, she started a YouTube “Little Farm Chats” as a way of keeping in touch with the congregation as COVID-19 closed in.  “They have since morphed into more general reflections,” she said recently. “Now that I’ve retired, Joe [my husband] moved the first four “chats” to a new YouTube channel – ‘Rev. Nancy:  Reflections from Little Farm’”.

For those who are members of the different traditional Christian faith community, hope and trust seems to be the common denominator. “God is in charge and will make something good come of this horrific time for all of us,” stated Rev. Higgins. “God always brings goodness from evil.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/apr/18/margaret-atwoods-lockdown-diary-life-as-an-eccentric-self-isolationist

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