Vail Valley churches adjust to a new normal, worshipping together remotely
Congregations are searching for ways to serve community safely while adhering to public safety order
EAGLE COUNTY — At churches around the Vail Valley on Sunday, sermons were preached and hymns were sung — but the pews were empty.
Instead of gathering in person, members of congregations gathered in front of computer screens to attend services — sharing their faiths during the time of COVID-19.
At Trinity Church in Edwards, the senior pastor and two members of the worship team, while being careful to observe social distance recommendations and remain at least 6 feet away from one another, presented a Sunday service that was then shared on social media and the church website.
Every parish in the valley is trying to adhere to the public health order issued by Eagle County on March 12 limiting gatherings to 50 or less. The order is in effect until April 8, and states: “The definition of ‘event’ is a gathering for business, social, or recreational activities including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; assemblies; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities. The order does not apply to schools, restaurants, lift lines and the airport. It does apply to private events such as weddings and parties.”
“We are definitely adhering to the order. We are grateful for the leadership our local authorities are showing,” said Sarah Hopkins, Trinity’s director of administration. “We can come together and worship together, in some sense, even if we are not in the same building.”
That goal was echoed by congregations valley-wide. From Facebook Live sessions to services that were recorded and then uploaded to websites, the valley’s faithful were able to worship together this weekend.
But local churches know the challenge ahead is bigger than a temporary technology solution. Their bigger issue is how to meet the challenge of ministering to people as coronavirus hits the valley.
People of faith
During previous times of national emergency, local churches scheduled special services and opened their doors for the anxious and bereaved. Obviously, COVID-19 requires a different response.
“If this was a 9/11 event, we could be saying some to our community ‘Come to our building. Let’s cry together and worship together’ but we can’t do that,” said Nate Morris , the lead pastor of Mountain Life Calvary Chapel in Edwards. “We need to figure out how to go to people without literally going to people.”
Congregations do want to serve the local community and they are searching for ways to make that happen.
“Within our church community, we have a few volunteers reaching out to those on our contact lists,” said Rev. Molly Fiore, associate pastor at the Eagle Community United Methodist Church. She noted those lists don’t just include members of the congregation.
“We want to check in with people. See how they are doing and assess their needs,” Fiore said.
Like all of us, Fiore said churches are still grappling to define what the need is.
“This is all fresh. We want to see what the community needs are and then show up to help,” Fiore said.
Showing up can still be personal, even if it isn’t in person, Fiore noted.
“I am seeing this amazing community coming together, ”she said. “We have a very generous community we have a lot of compassion. People are looking for ways to help while being safe.”
At the Methodist church, Monday’s Our Community Market will be open. Families will be able to pick up shelf-stable, prepacked bags of food at the Eagle church between 4:30 and 6 p.m. However, the congregation’s Monday night Simple Supper program has been canceled until further notice.
Spreading their message
Even as they are faced with the challenges of COVID-19, local faith leaders said the national outbreak represents a call to action.
Morris noted one of his parishioners took rolls of toilet paper, attached an encouraging note, and left them at the front door of her neighbors. A couple of weeks ago, he never would have imagined toilet paper as a ministry but combatting COVID-19 requires revolutionary efforts.
“Isolation is the thing that’s going to be hard over the next couple of weeks,” Morris said. “Our goal as a congregation is to help care for people.”
That means caring for both physical and spiritual needs. At times of crisis, people look to religion for hope. To meet that need, Morris noted there is an effort underway for local faith leaders to record hopeful messages that can be shared online, valley-wide and beyond.
“As believers, we have such hope,” Hopkins said. “That can be hard to remember in times when the world seems to be falling apart. What we want to do is reinforce that hope.”