Church leaders in the Abingtons offered care as they communicated with their congregations last week, even as they closed their doors to public services in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Diocese of Scranton issued a statement suspending celebration of masses and all public gatherings in its parishes, including Our Lady of the Snows in Clarks Summit and Church of St. Benedict in Newton Township. Scheduled weddings, baptisms and funerals will be limited to immediate family members only.
Bishop Bambera shared in a letter to the churches in the Diocese of Scranton, “May we continue to offer, in whatever way we can, care and concern for those who are most vulnerable, including the poor, our senior citizens and those who are ill.”
The crisis caught many church leaders by surprise as it progressed rapidly. In a desire to respect the recommendations of community leaders and government agencies while still ministering to their people, churches throughout the Abingtons are using technology to communicate.
Church of the Epiphany in Glenburn Township is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, which issued a statement announcing it called on all churches to cease operations and worship services through the end of March. Some parishes will offer a livestream and those can be found through the diocese website.
“Though we will not be able to worship in person, it is important for us to gather, even virtually, to worship God, and to remember that we continue to be a community of faith during these trying times,” said Bishop Kevin Nichols.
Protestant churches in the Abingtons have also suspended services. Many issued online statements or emails cancelling public worship, church events, group meetings and children’s programs. Church leaders proactively offered online resources. Several have live streaming available.
“The question we are asking is ‘How can we be the church in a season of extremity?’” said Rev. Bill Carter of First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit. “It’s not the first time. As the plague swept across Europe in the middle ages and people were literally falling in their tracks, often the last people to leave town were the Christians. They weren’t afraid of dying. They put their faith into action and provided relief for those around them. That points to a higher purpose than merely escaping the calamity. We have to pursue the public good, whatever that is. The Christian life is a higher calling of service and love.”
First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit plans to livestream services. Shifting the worship services online, Rev. Carter said they only expect those who lead services and are healthy enough to do so, to attend Sunday morning. “We want to err on the side of caution,” Carter said. “But we want to offer suggestions on how to be a high-touch church that isn’t touching. How can we stay in community with one another? I want to encourage my people to think of 10 people in our church family and then reach out and be in touch with them once or twice a week. Not everyone uses the internet as fluently or as often as others. We can mail a card to somebody. Keep in touch. There’s nothing like getting something tangible. That touch can be in someone’s mailbox.”
Parker Hill Community Church in Clarks Summit had been streaming online regularly for about a year. The church is on three campuses and has about 2,000 regular attenders. They were able to provide a message and worship music through livestreaming online.
More than 1,000 people watched Parker Hill’s services from home via livestreaming and Facebook Live on the first week of cancelled public services, according to Pastor Mark Stuenzi. Livestream services will be available through the church website on Sundays at 11:15 a.m. or via Facebook. Parker Hill Community Church also recently purchased airtime on WNEP and will air on Sunday afternoons from 2:30-3 p.m. for the next four weeks.
“We recognized that a lot of people are not going to be able to attend their church for the next several weeks and their church may not have the equipment in place to stream a service,” said Stuenzi. “If we can make that available to more people, to encourage and give perspective during this time, then we are happy to do that.”
Stuenzi said they are in the process of putting systems in place and mobilizing people to respond as their congregation has needs. “Caring for each other while social distancing can be challenging,” Stuenzi said. “But we need to do what we can to care for others and reach out.”
“This is the season of Lent, a season of restraint,” Rev Carter said. “Though this restraint is being imposed on us for public health reasons, it can also teach us to avoid overconsumption and selfishness. The plundering all the toilet paper reveals something about American consumption patterns. We’re anxious so we buy more. We buy it so the other person doesn’t get it or because we fear not having enough. Times like these truly do reveal who and what we are.”
As churches in the Abingtons care for their fellow man, they put their belief into action and continue to share messages of faith and hope, even remotely. For updates, resources and possible live streaming of services for Abington area churches, visit church websites or Facebook pages.