How does a church gather without members being physically near each other?
The answer is online, by phone and through the mail.
The pastors for area churches have implemented their usual methods of communication, plus a few more.
Radiant Coast in Ludington normally records its worship services to post online, but after closing the building due to coronavirus prevention guidelines, it added some new features.
Last Friday, the church turned a storage room into a “broadcast room” — something Radiant’s pastor, the Rev. Jerry Theis, dreamed of having for a long time.
“We had a lot of the equipment already, so it was just a matter of getting the room done,” he said.
Last Sunday morning at 10 a.m., instead of speaking to empty pews, Theis talked to cameras.
The video sermon streamed live on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram.
A technical crew of volunteers from the church monitored the session from the media room.
Several church members, or “live hosts,” watched the comment sections to immediately reply to people who had questions.
“They provide that human element. That feeling of connection,” said Nate Meek, the worship leader. Meek also assisted with the livestream on Sunday.
The church has a vision to create “micro-sites” along the Lake Michigan coast. The micro-sites would allow people to gather in small groups where there isn’t a church building available and participate in the church services.
The broadcast room was expected to be a part of that project — in the future. In response to current events, the time to construct the room changed to immediately.
“The timing was perfect — as perfect as it can be under the circumstances,” Meek said.
The team communicated using headsets to ensure the morning’s message went smoothly.
“Each time is different,” said Jeff Wagner, who worked in the broadcast room. “Last week we were in the sanctuary, today we wanted (Theis) to start out at the hospital praying for the patients and staff.”
Though the Skype session from the hospital was canceled due to equipment failure, the team wasn’t discouraged. After the livestream was complete, the group met and discussed how they could improve.
“Obviously, this isn’t the preferred method to gather, but it is providing an interactive connection,” Theis said.
The most important mission is to continue serving the community, he said.
“It’s times like times like this that I’m glad we have invested in this — not just money, but the time and frustration of making mistakes,” he said. “This is forcing us to get this done, and know it, so when we come back it can fire on all cylinders. Radiant … is going to grow from this.
“When we get back to normal, we are going to be amazed after those first few services. We will go, ‘We didn’t fall apart, we didn’t lose momentum.’”
Not all churches in the area are livestreaming services.
The Rev. Mick Shriver has filmed daily “check-in” videos for Facebook in addition to posting his Sunday sermon online. Shriver is the minister for Grace Episcopal Church and Emanuel Lutheran Church.
He also calls and mails updates to his parishioners who do not have computers.
“The videos allow me to reach the most people at one time,” Shriver said. “But I can appreciate those who have difficulties with technology.”
One pleasant surprise was how many of the church’s members who spend the winter down south were able to view the videos and reconnect with him, he said.
Shriver said denominational and area church leaders have been sharing resources and expertise through the coronavirus developments.
“We are all having to do a crash course,” he said. “Not only are we calling each other, but asking ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘Are you taking care of yourself?’”