Positivity reigned supreme when Evergreen Covenant Church on Mercer Island held its first parking-lot service on Sept. 6.
“People were very excited,” said executive pastor Julie Steel, noting that the 67 parishioners of all ages in attendance all wore masks and social distanced while catching up with each other in person. It’s been mostly all virtual services since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and churches — like everyone else — had to change how they connected with their congregations.
“We are still the church, just not in the building,” was an early message, Steel said, as they got through the Lent and Easter season. On Sept. 6, people were back and worshipping either in their cars or in chairs. Another parking-lot service was scheduled for Sept. 13, and Steel and her flock plan to be back in the church sanctuary on Sept. 20 with 25 percent capacity.
Over at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on the Island, Kathy Fisher, director of intergenerational ministry programs, said that thanks to a talented volunteer they have been conducting online services since mid-March and they anticipate staying that course well into 2021. In addition, they had two outdoor services in their lower parking lot in August and were planning one more in September.
“The time since March has been challenging. But, church is not the building — it is the community,” Fisher said. “We have been able to stay connected through Zoom groups — social ‘check in,’ Bible studies. The US Mail has been utilized for cheery cards to members of all ages. Our council members have contact lists they stay in touch with. We are always together — even if we’re apart.”
Rev. Roberta Rominger, pastor at Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) on the Island, said that music was often the highlight of their worship services before the pandemic.
“It was hard for us when we couldn’t sing together, and we have really missed our choir. Now our singers are recording music for us in advance for worship on Zoom. It’s not the same, but it works,” she said.
Visual arts has come into the spotlight during virtual services with members sending in photos, which are incorporated into the events. In one moving experience, parishioners shared pictures of themselves as adults with their parents or grown children.
“Our photographers now invite us to notice the changes in the world around us and treasure the beauty,” Rominger said.
After Rominger’s congregation started contacting overseas friends in March, they began displaying short videos from different parts of the world each Sunday.
“We have learned how the virus has affected people in contexts very different from ours, and we have been inspired by the responses of the churches there, many of them with much smaller resources than we have,” said Rominger, adding that they now have online-worship visitors from South Africa, the United Kingdom and across the United States.
On the connection front, Holy Trinity organized “lawn parties” during the summer where kids and adults gathered in small groups. Their knitters meet on Tuesdays in the parking lot.
“As we move into fall, we will meet once a month per age group (Sunday school, confirmation and high school) so relationships can continue to grow,” Fisher said.
Steel said they recently studied the Psalms at Evergreen Covenant as an ideal way to have people identify emotions and focus on who God is during these times.
“We really believe that God is moving us in a new direction through this global kind of crisis that we’re all experiencing,” Steel said.