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Fairmont area churches work to adapt amid pandemic

Editor’s note: A variety of area church leaders were contacted for this article. Not all answers were able to be used and some had to be edited for space. People may contact their church leaders for more information.

FAIRMONT — As all areas of life continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 virus, resulting job losses and a statewide stay-at-home order, many are turning to their faith as a source of guidance and comfort.

But when church doors are responsibly shuttered in attempt to keep members and the general public safe, a crucial element of faith is strained.

In order to reach their congregations, many area churches are utilizing live-streaming, pre-recorded services and direct mailing.

Pastor Seth Watson of Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Fairmont noted that Bethel is live-streaming Sunday services. It also is publishing videos on YouTube, as is Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fairmont. Still others are publishing recorded services on their websites or posting blogs.

Some may wonder if a virtual church service will be the way of the future, but many spiritual leaders agree that such things are no substitute for meeting in person.

“The time we live in is amazing. But pre-recorded or online services are lacking when compared to regular, in-person meetings,” Watson said.

Father Andrew Beerman of St. John Vianney in Fairmont said the current forced alternatives are not the same for people as attending, as they are not personally present or able to receive the sacraments, especially Holy Communion.”

“It is hard to love — in the sense of actions — our neighbors when we can’t be with them,” said Reverend Anthony Bertram of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fairmont.

Pastor John Schofield of Calvary Baptist Church, the only church in Granada, stated: “You cannot hug a TV set; Biblical Christianity cannot be fully experienced digitally.”

When asked if isolation will have an impact on congregations, Pastor Wade Daul of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fairmont said, “We pray it will create a longing for the return of corporate worship and in-person ministry.”

Pastor Tony Fink of United Methodist Church in Fairmont said, “One of our groups is a Bible study of older people. They don’t have the technology like computers or smartphones, so we did a Bible study over everybody’s landline. So we’re able to get a bunch of people in, and I think they’re appreciative of being able to hear each others’ voices in a group setting.”

Church leaders also face personal challenges due to the extended isolation period. Many are unable to enjoy the visitation time with which they are familiar. Instead, personal visitation is reduced to a phone call or virtual meeting.

“The human element is missing,” Watson said.

“The most difficult part is ministry to those in the hospital and senior care facilities,” Daul shared. “They are cut off from family and their church family. We hope to start a phone-calling ministry soon to touch base with those who do not have access to our online ministry opportunities.”

Schofield said it is difficult for him to see many of his congregation out of work and struggling, while Bertram noted he is looking for new ways to reach out. Fink offered a silver lining, sharing, “The separation is not as bad as it might be, because we’re getting the sense that people are getting more connected, not just with church members but with family members. People who have been distracted with so many things in life can now find time to connect with people.”

Church leaders also are offering messages of encouragement.

“Jesus Christ has a cure for a much more deadly disease than COVID-19,” Schofield said. “‘The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord'” – Romans 6:23.”

“We should not give in to fear, but live in faith, hope and joy because of Christ,” Watson said.

Fink stated: “We remind ourselves that when asked what the most important commandments were, Jesus said love God and love your neighbor.”

“Even though there is a lot of bad news surrounding this pandemic, I am convinced that God is bringing even greater good from it,” Beerman said.

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