What a difference a week makes.
While St. Anthony Catholic Church, Morris, and St. Nicholas Catholic Church, Sunman, were empty March 14-15, “the faithful were gathered in the parking lots sitting in their warm cars tuned into radio station 107.5,” said Liz Lattire, communication director for both parishes.
“With Governor Holcomb announcing new steps to protect the public from COVID-19, updated recommendations from the office of Archbishop Charles Thompson and guidance by the Indiana State Department of Health all released within a day of each other, a decision was made regarding the weekend Masses at the two churches.”
The Rev. Shaun Whittington, pastor of both parishes, “devised a clever plan of celebrating the Mass in the parking lot while using an FM transmitter at the altar so people were able to listen to the audio of the Mass on their car radios. The altar, sheltered by an awning at St. Anthony and a small trailer used at St. Nicholas, overlooked the parked cars.”
Among parishioners attending the parking lot Mass March 14 at the St. Anthony campus was Ripley County health officer Dr. David Welsh, a member of the parish for over 10 years. Lattire reported, “He was pleasantly surprised when he arrived. He says, ‘I was very pleased by the efforts of St. Anthony parishioners and Father Whittington when they offered Mass the way they did in the parking lot. Their innovation allowed folks to come together as a community and celebrate together by maintaining the 6-foot separation that is recommended. They were able to show that people coming and working together can beat this public health challenge, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s really nice to live in this area. A place like St. Anthony isn’t just a church building where people come together. It’s a faith family that helps each other and are there for each other. They make you feel not only welcome, but are happy to see you. So, when they can come up with a way to deal with this public health crisis and still allow people to come together and show that they are appreciated, it was very heartwarming.’”
Lattire added, “Despite the cold, wet weather over the weekend, everything went without a glitch. Father Whittington continued to celebrate the three remaining weekend Masses at the parishes. During his homily, he reminded everyone that we are trying to respond in the best way that we can for circumstances that seem very unusual to us. The feedback from everyone including social media has been very positive and encouraging.”
Whittington noted, “This is a modern twist on an old practice: in the past, priests would offer Mass in the village square and people would attend from windows of their homes during epidemics. Now Mass is in the parking lot and people can attend through the safety of the windows of their cars and listen using the car radio. While it seems innovative, it’s really an old practice.”
However, since then changes have been made.
“We will not be allowed to continue the parking lot Masses at this time,” Lattire revealed. “Presently, the Archdiocese (of Indianapolis) has sent new directives that have suspended the (Catholic) church’s public liturgy. Our parishes remain prayerful and hopeful this crisis will end soon.”
Michelle Wachsmann, St. Louis Catholic Church, Batesville, parish secretary, added, “All meetings, events and Masses are cancelled until further notice.”
According to the Holy Family Catholic Church, Oldenburg, Facebook page, “In light of new information and recommendations from health officials concerning the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgency to stem the spread of the virus, the five Catholic bishops of Indiana have suspended effective March 18 and until further notice all public Sunday and weekday Masses throughout the Province of Indianapolis, which is comprised of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the dioceses of Gary, Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend and Lafayette.” The link for streaming Mass daily and on Sundays is https://archindy.org/worship/coronavirus2020-streaming.html.
Sister Barbara Piller, Sisters of St. Francis liturgy coordinator, said, “We are also attempting to practice social distancing. We prefer to call this physical distancing because it is important to keep up with our social contacts. Each morning at 11:15 our Sisters gather in their rooms for a prayer service led by one of our Sisters. We are blessed with closed circuit TV, which enables us to be spiritually and socially connected through the wonder of technology. For some of our Sisters, this is the first time in their adult life that they have not received Holy Communion daily.
“None of us knows how long this will continue. We pray each day for those struggling with the effects of this virus. We pray that the spread of this virus will slow down. We appreciate the messages we receive from others who say they are praying for our community. Thank you!”
John Vadeboncoeur, Community Church of Batesville, pastor, announced, “As of March 15, we went to a pure online format for our Sunday service. We are doing our best to give our congregants and community an authentic Sunday morning worship experience, including a welcome, a full band leading praise music and a message. This last week, we even incorporated one of our goofy annual traditions for St. Patrick’s Day of having a leprechaun join our welcoming time and encouraged people to post pictures of their families watching the online service as well as a ‘special phrase’ we would have after our service to win some fun Irish-themed gifts. We also posted content for our Kid Connection ministry so parents had specific lessons and faith-based activities/discussions to do with their kids. Creating as much hope, normalcy and community for those that watch our services is important to us. We will continue with this video format for as long as is recommended by the federal and state authorities.”
In addition, “we may produce other short videos throughout the week for any other communication we normally do or even just something fun and comedic. During a time of isolation for many, we will do our best to help people feel connected .... We had a tremendous response to our online Sunday services in terms of views, virtual interaction and numerous separate posts by those in our community and congregation, including those that may have been clear across the country for spring break, but still participated in our time together.”
“The Greek word that most Bibles translate into the word church, which we typically associate with a building, is better translated as a ‘gathering’ of people that come together. While we sorely miss our time together in one place on Sundays and throughout the week, this is a tremendous opportunity for us to gather in different ways for worship and praise. It also is an amazing opportunity to come together as people of faith to assist, directly help and encourage individuals who are adversely effected or struggling during this time and to rally around our community.”
The Rev. Chris Renick from Batesville United Methodist Church said, “For the last couple weeks we have been taking extra precautions with encouraging proper handwashing and how to do it, washing microphones, not shaking hands, etc. We have also canceled several activities to this point .... Bishop Trimble, the leader of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, has asked all United Methodist churches in Indiana to suspend Sunday services for at least the next four weeks. Thankfully, we offer a LiveStream for our service already, so we will continue to offer a message and prayer time for anyone who accesses this through our website.”
“This is an unprecedented time in our society and for the church. I do not know of any other time in which the church has closed for this length of time, and this offers an unusual challenge. How do we continue to be the church, meeting the needs of others, sharing the Gospel message and continuing to grow in our own spiritual development during this time? I do not think it is impossible, but it will require some new ways of thinking and doing the work that God has called us to.”
Batesville Christian Church lead pastor Bryce Hotchkiss reported, “We have been in contact with the mayor and listening to the advisories of both Governor Holcomb and the White House administration” for guidelines. “For the next couple of weeks, we will be moving to an online only service. It is our desire to make it as close to an in-person worship service as possible. We have also postponed our community events to be re-evaluated after the restrictions have been lifted.
“While this situation is fluid and changing often, we decided to limit our closures to two weeks at the outset. That being said, with the CDC’s recommendation of no groups greater than 50 meeting for eight weeks, we are monitoring the advisories and will adjust accordingly .... We will be doing our best to think through how to maintain connection as a church family. We have been updating our congregation as much as possible and will be thinking through some creative opportunities to use this situation to carry on the work of making disciples for Jesus.”
Creighton Leptak Jr., St. Paul Lutheran Church, Crossroads, pastor, said he has also been monitoring all public communication from the governor and federal officials.
As of March 16, “we have cancelled all small group gatherings, our Midweek Lenten services and cancelled Sunday school and the worship services the next two weeks .... (Last weekend) we had a highly modified service in which we took great care to limit any physical contact, and our attendance this past Sunday was rather light.”
“As people of faith, we hold fast to the calming assurance of the abiding presence of our Lord. We also hear in that peaceful assurance the call to be Christ’s heart in this world and extend love to our neighbor. In this time of fasting from public gatherings, we are reminded that our God is moving in our midst, supporting and calming our fears. In response, we join together with all our sisters and brothers in Christ to feast in prayer and praise to the one who will guide us through this turbulent time.”
Joey Feldmann, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Huntersville, pastor, noted, “Our state conference has been in regular communication with us for the past several weeks. They have all along been encouraging caution and to minimize contact. This week, they advised that we go to online worship only for at least the next few weeks. This is what we will be doing. Effective March 18, St. John’s UCC will be worshiping only through a variety of online options, including Facebook Live and the sharing of videos to our YouTube page.
“Even before this, our attendance was noticeably down this past Sunday. Obviously, it will be hard to measure it at all as we move to online worship only. I do not know if any other changes will be coming. It would not surprise me if the time of online only needs to be extended, but I, and my leadership, are trying to take things one step and one day at a time. I certainly hope that as we live in this moment, our ability to engage with people online will improve and become ever more creative.”
He added, “I am grateful to our medical professionals, especially those at Margaret Mary, who are working hard to keep us safe and healthy. I am grateful for those who are keeping the store shelves stocked with food and other items we need even during moments of social isolation. Most of all, I am grateful to God, who is with all of us even in these uncertain times. I trust in God’s grace throughout this time and these decisions. I know not what the next few weeks and months will hold. But I trust that we all are in God’s care and arms.”