Vail Valley virtual church services bring Holy Week to stalwarts, new listeners
Technology helps bring locals the messages associated with Christianity's most significant week
The stories in the Christian scriptures don’t change, but times do. And these are interesting times.
Most churches are packed, and ring with celebratory hymns on Easter Sunday — April 12 this year — to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This year, those churches will be mostly silent, due to the COVID-19 virus and mandates for people to keep their distance from each other. That’s bringing worship services online.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is unique in modern times, Father Brooks Keith of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration said this is far from the first time Christians have had to adjust the way they worship.
Keith said that Christians are “not constrained to our own experience. We can call on people who lived through this (in the past).”
Keith said the U.S. at this moment is “mirroring the Christian message.”
That’s particularly true with churches that follow the “liturgical calendar.” That calendar puts the New Testament’s four main gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — on a rotation. All those gospels contain similar, but different, stories of Jesus’ birth, life, execution and resurrection.
‘Do not be afraid’
This year, Matthew is up in the rotation. Keith noted that gospel’s telling of the resurrection is the only one in which Jesus’ followers are told, more than once, “do not be afraid.”
“That’s the same way we have to repeat it now,” Keith said. “That’s the message — do not be afraid.”
Bringing that message takes a lot of work these days.
Churches have turned to Facebook, YouTube, Zoom and other platforms for both weekly worship and other programs.
The valley’s Episcopalians — a congregation more than 400 strong — can view services for children, as well as daily services. That programming takes the work of the church’s seven paid employees and about a dozen lay volunteers.
At the United Methodist Church of the Eagle Valley, Rev. Molly Fiore is celebrating her first Holy Week as pastor.
Fiore is on Facebook every day sharing thoughts about Holy Week and the Christian experience.
Fiore said it’s interesting that the pandemic hit the U.S. during Lent — the 40 day period before Easter in which Christians are asked for self-denial and reflection.
“We’ve been forced to literally slow down,” Fiore said. “This period gives us an opportunity to reflect.”
Grief, then joy
Fiore noted that with funerals, weddings, graduations and other events canceled or postponed, many people are grieving the loss of those occasions.
Lent is “an opportunity to let ourselves grieve,” Fiore said. But, she added, grief is followed by the joy of resurrection, and Jesus’ promise of eternal life after physical death.
Moving worship online has also meant an opportunity to reach out to more people.
Fiore said a typical Sunday at Eagle’s Methodist Church brings between 70 and 100 people into the chapel. The first week that services went online saw more than 800 people viewing virtually.
“We’ve turned this into an opportunity to minister to people in different ways, and reach a whole new demographic,” Eagle River Presbyterian Church Pastor Rob Wilson.
Wilson said that church’s online services are getting better every week. But, he added, sharing the Christian message through adversity is nothing new.
“We’re people who have historically faced obstacles,” Wilson said, adding that the attitude at the church can be summed up with four ideas:
- Accept the reality you can’t change.
- Assess what we have to do now.
In addition to sermons, Wilson said he’s been spending a lot of time on the phone.
“People are hurting, scared and isolated,” Wilson said. “I’ve said more prayers over the phone than I thought I ever would.”
It’s all part of working the spiritual into the physical world. And the Easter message is one of hope.
“When things are at their worst, God is at his best,” Keith said. “That’s the wisdom of our forebears.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.