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Faith communities stay spiritually connected, grow, and learn during pandemic

By: Stacey Kellogg Last Updated: April 9, 2020

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about Holy Week celebrations. If you would like us to list how your faith community is offering opportunities to stay connected during shelter in place, please email your name, the name of the church, and a link to its website or social media channel(s) for people to follow to share@greatnews.life.

One could say that the pandemic has brought about the best of humanity in hundreds of ways, if not more. The spiritual and faithful communities have, out of necessity, put traditional worship aside and embraced newer ways to gather in faith. For many, the movement has been having positive effects in ways they had not expected.

GreatNews.Life made a social callout inviting people to share how they have adapted to worshipping and connecting with their spiritual health despite not being able to congregate in large groups. We heard from people as far as West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and Washington D.C., and all who responded had one common, underlying message: we’re in this together.

church pews

First United Methodist Church in La Porte dug to the core of the difficulty of social distancing. Senior Pastor Bob Vale looked at the empty church and said, “Nope.” He placed pictures of parishioners where they might normally sit and hosted what the church calls #MinistersMoment with guitar in hand, streaming the event live on the church’s Facebook page. You can find that and other engaging messages on the First United Methodist Church of La Porte Facebook Page.

The Northwest Indiana Islamic Center posted a heartfelt message on their Facebook page from Board President Brother Abdul-Fatai Asida. He urged members to stay connected with the uplifting spiritual messages on their Facebook page, including those specially designed to connect with youth, and reminded the community to take this opportunity to reflect and move closer to Allah. “May Allah protect you, your families, and our beloved Community and return us to worship in the house of Allah!” read the Facebook post. Sh. Mongy El-Quesny, Imam of Northwest Indiana Islamic Center, is also providing reassurance and spiritual guidance with regular posts on their YouTube channel.

In Starke County, St. Peter Lutheran Church & School turned the Melody Drive-In Theatre into a social distancing worship center. Even though Sunday’s (March 29) winds were high, Pastor Joseph Cunningham’s words were heard just fine as parishioners honked their horns to signal, “Amen!”

One of the Region’s largest faith organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, Diocese of Gary, has created a comprehensive clearinghouse of parishes that are streaming weekly Mass, which can be found on the Diocese website.

A special worship guide for in-home celebrations has been developed especially for Holy Week.

Bishop Robert J. McClory has found himself in the midst of the pandemic just a little over a month into taking this leadership position. To guide, reassure, and stay connected with Catholics across the Region, he’s provided regular updates on the Diocese website.

“During this time of private celebration of our liturgies, I am impressed that so many of you have participated remotely through the live streaming of our Masses. We will continue to avail ourselves of these technologies and will be offering resources for use at home during Holy Week,” he said on March 26.

Ongoing messages, including video addresses from the Bishop, can be found here.

The Bishop has invited anyone seeking support to email intentions that he will personally lift up in prayer to pray@dcgary.org.

Bob Wellinski of La Porte hopes to become a Deacon in the Catholic Church upon completing his studies. Wellinski and his family have been watching Mass nearly every day.

“With so many churches live streaming Mass, it’s been nice,” he said, “although I do miss the Eucharist.”

Wellinski said the social isolation has allowed him to dig deeper into his reflection of the season of Lent.

Christian Mathew, 15, Valparaiso, has been able to find meaning and strength in his Catholic faith by connecting with other youth for bible study via video conferencing. The study group was organized by Victoria Perez of La Porte Catholic Youth Ministry.

“It was nice to think about how Christ’s 40 days in the desert were a time of penance and fasting, and how the pandemic is helping us to separate from the world,” Mathew said.

He would have preferred a face-to-face study group, but acknowledged that it was good to see everyone through the video conferencing, to hear them laugh, and react just like they would in person.

“It is still possible to learn and grow in faith without being together,” he said.

Mike Denny, Youth Pastor at Valparaiso Nazarene Church, typically connects weekly with middle school and high school students in large and small groups. He has personally embraced new social media platforms and finds the popular video conferencing program Zoom to offer new benefits.

“One of the surprising effects of using Zoom is that many of our students who are introverted and quiet have been more active in the conversations than in our typical, youth group setting,” he said. “I think since they are home, many of them in their rooms, they are more comfortable and, therefore, they are more willing to participate.”

Denny said they have also been using Zoom to play games and are planning a household scavenger hunt next week via Zoom.

Their youth group messages are streamed at 6:30 p.m. at valponaz.churchonline.org on Monday nights for high school students and Thursday nights for middle school students. There is a live chat that happens during the meeting on that website. All a student needs to do is create a free profile to join the chat. For more information check out valponaz.org.

Karen Jurgens Creighton admitted that online services and recorded messages are not a healthy way for her to worship or stay spiritually connected. But, as strong-willed as she is, she has found an alternative.

“I will probably try to do something good for someone else as a show of my faith. Blessed to be blessed. It will be private and remain respectful of social distancing,” she said.

Here are some other Region responses to the question, how are you staying connected in faith and spirituality during shelter in place?

Janet and Brian Powers, lead pastors of CelebrationChurchNWI:

wife and husband on couch reading Bible

“We are having church from the sofa and doing a live stream. We are doing several encouragement “lives” during the weekend and a service on Sunday. I prefer to call it a talk. We chose not to use a formal stage setting on purpose. Everyone is on their sofa right now!”

Nancy Nickels Duckwall:

Real Life Community Church in Portage is live streaming on Facebook.

Sandra Leigh Odle Schaffer:

Calvary Church (Valparaiso) hosts sermons online.

Kim Stevens-Hill:

Bethany Lutheran Church (La Porte) streams online. Last week we could go to the parking lot (remaining in cars) and the Pastor was outside.

Judith Lange:

St. John’s United Church of Christ in Michigan City is streaming online at 9:30 on Sunday mornings.

Mike Petrucelli:

The (Catholic) Diocese of Ft. Wayne South Bend is streaming Mass now. They have set up Facebook events, too, as reminders.

Stacey Brown:

I have a friend who shared online services from Bethel (Church & Ministries) in Crown Point. Faith Church in Dyer does an online broadcast weekly.

State Street Community Church offers a mobile app and streams services and messages on their website http://statestreet.tv/ and Facebook page.

Trisha Chason:

Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) has increased their offerings significantly and teachers are conducting daily meditations via Zoom at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m.