St. Paul's During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In the beginning...
Like everyone else, the people of St. Paul's were surprised by the rapid spread of COVID-19 which quickly became a world-wide pandemic. In March of 2020, stay at home orders were issued and we were required to close the sanctuary. The church was empty, but our hearts were full. We continued to love our neighbors, pray for those in need, and provide food for the hungry. We found new ways to worship and supported each other in every way we could think of.
We were disappointed and overwhelmed when we realized that we could not be together for Easter that year. We had hoped the isolation would only last a few weeks. Little did we know that we would be apart the following Easter as well. It was not until June of 2021 that we were able to welcome in-person worshippers back in the sanctuary. Still, we kept our spirits up remembering that all of the sacrifices we made were out of LOVE for our neighbors.
Here is an excerpt of the sermon the first Sunday we were apart. In it, Rev. Susan prayed,
"May the only thing we spread to one another this week be this amazing, abundant, radiant, life-giving, sin-forgiving, and joy-sustaining love.
Love seeks the good and welfare of others. Jesus went to the cross for the wellbeing of others. He did it to show what love looks like. Our empty church is what love looks like today. God so loved the world that he gave his only son that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) We, the congregation of St. Paul’s, Ventura, so love the world that we have given up gathering for worship. We have sacrificed a lot. Let us offer to God, on behalf of our neighbors, this sacrifice. This is a new Lenten commitment for us – not gathering. May our not gathering be a disciplined labor or love.
These are interesting times. Today, our empty church is what love looks like. Today, people sitting faithfully in front of their screens, worshiping God online instead of going to church, is what love looks like. Today, neighbors sharing what they have and giving up some hand sanitizer or toilet paper to someone in need is what love looks like.
We think not just of ourselves but of our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable. Realizing that our choices effect our brothers and sisters, we have no choice but to take these precautions."
While we were apart, two production teams came together to produce online services. Some of our services were recorded in the church and livestreamed through Facebook, YouTube and our website. Other services were recorded on a platform called Zoom and fully edited. For these we could add recorded music and edit beautiful images to go along with the services. To keep from overwhelming our staff and volunteers, we rotated the type of service every other week.
Families found this time particularly challenging so we sent Family Fun Activity Packages with Sunday School lessons and ideas of fun and engaging projects for families along with all the supplies needed to use them.
The Return from Exile
When we were first able to welcome worshippers back into the sanctuary, we developed new safety protocols and carefully marked off every other pew. Seating Coordinators helped check people in for services and assigned them seats so that distance could be maintained. Masks were worn, and no singing was allowed. Eucharist was offered in one kind only, the bread. It was nearly one year later before we could begin to offer wine with Eucharist again.
Still, people were thrilled to be together in our church again. Those who were not comfortable with in-person worship watched from home and enjoyed the online services.
Because of a generous bequest left by a faithful, long-time member of the congregation, Judy MacGregor, a video production project was funded and we began purchasing equipment that would dramatically improve the quality of our online services. Several new cameras were added and a production desk set up in the side chapel where services could be recorded and livestreamed.
A Silver Lining
Even in times of adversity, God is always present and blessings abound. Though the pandemic has been hard on the church and our members, if you include the many people watching online each Sunday, our attendance has increased dramatically. It's wonderful to welcome newcomers both in person and online.
As the pandemic runs it's course and we enter new phases of it, we continue to offer prayers for our members, our community and the world. Of course we are also praying for everyone in our community! If you need pastoral care or have prayer requests, please email or call and let us know by emailing us at [email protected]
St. Paul's offers Sunday Services both In-Person and Online
Please note that out of love and concern for those among us who are at greatest risk, we ask that everyone attending Sunday services wears a mask in the sanctuary. We appreciate your cooperation. You are a living example of what LOVE looks like. Thank you!