The Reverend Bruce Gillette, of the First Presbyterian Union Church (FPUC) located at 111 Temple St. in Owego, N.Y., is among many local pastors who have been faced with closing their doors temporarily due to COVID-19. Gillette explained that the church has remained connected, though, by adopting a new way to communicate.
Gillette said one of the aspects most missed has been the in-person interactions with church members, and remarked, “We’re all so close and such a friendly group, it’s so hard to social distance.”
Since March, Gillette, along with his wife, Carolyn, who is Parish Associate at the Church, and several Elders, took on a live weekly worship service via Zoom. The virtual church service has allowed the congregation to continue to feel united during this difficult time.
Gillette said that the approach has worked well, and added, “Even though we had to work through a few on-line glitches when we first started in March.”
Along with Sunday morning services, the FPUC has also added a Bible Series on Monday’s and special topics of interest on Tuesday’s, for example, “Mysteries of the Celtic Cross.” Wednesday features a virtual prayer service, although pastors and elders remain available to offer prayers by phone. The Zoom platform has allowed the FPUC to take creativity to another level, too, like hanging out after worship service at home for “on-line coffee hour.”
Gillette commented that the live streaming efforts have resulted in, “Actually seeing more people join our services by Zoom,” and which, he said, includes former residents now living out of state.
Gillette remarked, “We can love God and love our neighbors, whether we are worshiping at home or in-person.”
FPUC held its first in-person gathering, an outdoor worship service, on July 12. The service started at 9 a.m. in the adjoining cemetery, and Gillette hopes that it will meet the needs of those who have been longing to get together in person. To organize the event, the church took reservations, and is adhering to social distancing space requirements between seats.
A special task force has been created at FPUC to discuss future plans, including when to return to in-house worship services, and the potential of more outdoor services. Multiple concerns must be addressed, Gillette said, such as ensuring that church seniors will not be at risk and how to handle the absence of choir singing, just to name a few.
Gillette commends several volunteers who have hand-made hundreds of masks for the public over the course of the last several weeks, and just one example of how the church has remained connected to the community.
Over at the First Baptist Church of Owego (FBC-O), located at 228 Main St., preparations have been on-going for the re-opening of in-person services on July 12.
Rich Saxton, moderator and chairperson of the Board of Managers at FBC-O, stated, “Our preparation has been mindful of compliance with published guidance from federal, state and local sources such as the CDC and Department of Health,” and added that masks, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves (if desired) and tissues will be available for all entering the church.
Attendees will have their temperatures taken, and the sanctuary will be set up to ensure maximum physical separation.
Saxton said, “The separation distance in our sanctuary seating plan meets, and in most cases exceeds, the published six foot guidance.”
FBC-O, led by Pastor Bill Kohler, invites all to join them for Sunday Service in the sanctuary or on-line. The church will continue producing on-line services.
Saxton commented that the on-line service has been well received by the congregation, and for those who cannot or are not comfortable returning to in-person gatherings, the on-line service is a positive accommodation.
Saxton remarked, “In times of difficulty, the measure of a community is manifested in how it responds.”
FBC-O has responded and adapted to continue serving the community with a regularly scheduled ACT dinner, and another mission, the KIND project. Utilizing the take-out method, in-need families picked up dinners at the church, and those in need of child care supplies, such as diapers and wipes, are still able to receive them at the church.
Referring to a cumulative effort by many area churches, schools and restaurants, among others, Saxton commented, “Our community has banded together in common purpose to address pressing issues of our neighbors during this difficult and uncertain time.”