New pastor finding her way

Pastor Darcy Metcalfe just arrived in Springfield in January for her new assignment at Covenant Presbyterian Church. Covenant and Northminster Presbyterian Church returned to live services for Palm Sunday, March 28, a welcome time for Metcalfe and the Covenant congregation to be formally introduced.

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“I was previously preaching to people I hadn’t met, so there was a definite energy (last Sunday). I was happy to be able to meet our people face to face,” she said. “There’s exuberation at being back, but we’re tempering it with caution.”

To accommodate their Easter crowds, Covenant is opting for a drive-in service in its parking lot, considering it the safest approach for a large crowd. Metcalfe described it as almost like tailgating without the refreshments and team gear.

The service will be family-oriented and include a sermon, live music and kids’ activities.

“The big reason to be outside is to be as safe as possible,” Metcalfe said. “We’re not at the end of this yet.”

Covenant had a few drive-in services last year before returning to streaming. Metcalfe hopes to keep the momentum going; the first service back drew 80 worshippers, about a third of a normal Sunday crowd.

“It’s a blessing to have come through the last year but there’s a balance with what we’ve lost,” she said.

Loss and hope for Easter

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is unique in that it stayed with in-person services throughout the pandemic according to Bob Mitterholzer, the church council’s treasurer. The staff and congregation are experiencing the joys of the Easter season with the grief of a personal loss following the passing of the church’s longtime pastor, John Pollock, who died March 23.

Pollock, who served 21 years at the church, had just retired effective March 1. Mitterholzer said Pollock had fought heart problems for the past year.

“It’s been solemn, but we’re faithful,” he said. “It was a shock; he was very well liked. It’s been difficult, but our congregation is strong.”

Mitterholzer said despite Pollock’s health, he was determined to keep live services going amidst the pandemic, with proper safety considerations in compliance with county and state recommendations.

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“We’ve seen more and more people coming out and we’re starting to rise up,” he said.

Welcoming for Easter and beyond

Last week, Berea Bible Church put up flags outside its building alerting passersby “You’re invited” to attend services. It’s another venue that reopened in May 2020 following the initial lockdown with outdoor tent services, moving indoors when the fall weather turned.

With its chairs separated by six-feet and together for families, Berea’s Pastor Dr. Brian Miller has seen an increase in Berea’s attendance. Numbers have reached an average of 110-120 for live services in addition to streaming to even more.

One of Berea’s Easter attractions is a sunrise service done outside a recreation of the tomb Christ arose from on Easter morning. Staff is also making accommodations for extra visitors given people tend to attend services on Christmas Eve and Easter.

“We’ve had a lot of anticipation and hopefulness. We always have quite a bit of interest in the tomb and the service we do there and Easter is a good time to share our word,” Miller said.

Staying cautious

While some churches wanted a live service or a hybrid of live and online, High Street United Methodist Church leadership has chosen to stay virtual. Easter Sunday will see the return of a small live crowd while continuing to focus on streaming on Facebook and YouTube.

“Easter Sunday is a big event, it’s meaningful in the life of a church and this would’ve been two years we couldn’t go live, so we’re calling this a soft opening,” said Pastor Cynthia Atwater. “We had a few members who really wanted to come. We are just trying to provide our members a chance to worship but make sure our staff and visitors are also safe.”

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While the church’s office staff have remained at work, they also do a weekly soup kitchen on Tuesdays. There are no solid plans on a return to full services, but Atwater said the church is ready to accommodate others who may want to attend Easter services.

“We are hopeful. Everyone is welcome and we won’t turn anyone away,” she said. “If nothing else, we’ve learned the church is us, not the bricks and mortar.”

Slowly coming back together

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in New Carlisle will be holding Easter services in-person – unlike a year ago.

“The fact the doors are open this year is very important,” said pastoral associate Christina McGrath.

McGrath said a lot of thought and work has gone into accommodating COVID restrictions for holy week and Easter this year. To cut-down on physical contact that could spread the disease, the parish elected not to do their customary ritual of washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. The parish also did away with other familiar traditions – it chose not to hand out palms to every person on Palm Sunday, last Sunday, and did not hand out candles to each person at the Easter vigil mass on Saturday.

But even that is better than a year ago when Sacred Heart had to rely entirely on a live-stream to deliver their Easter service to their parishioners.

“It was really a big blow not to gather in person,” she said.

Now many of the people in the congregation have gotten the coronavirus vaccine. McGrath said about 80% of the congregation is worshipping in-person again.

“We are feeling some relief from the vaccine,” McGrath said. “People are very excited to get back. People are really looking forward to a fresh start.”

Pandemic an opportunity for growth

For a local Jewish congregation, for whom a week of Passover observances end today, a year of pandemic was both a challenge and opportunity.

Rabbi Cary Kozberg from Temple Shalom in Springfield said he thinks the pandemic has helped people realize how fragile life is and to not take anything for granted. The Yiddish word for “honor” or “respect” is pronounced a lot like “co-vid,” Kozberg said, and he hopes that the COVID pandemic has reminded people to have more respect and compassion for one another.

“I hope we are better on the other side of this thing. What can we learn from this most challenging time?” Kozberg said. “What are we doing to take care of our souls? To take care of others?”

Kozberg said this pandemic has been a time to pay attention and reflect on life for many.

Many members of the temple found the transition from in-person services to an entirely online format difficult. Kozberg said his congregation is “more than ready” to come back to in-person services.

“We had never done Zoom before, so that was an adjustment,” Kozberg said. “And some of our older members are intimidated by the technology.”

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Many members have belonged to the temple for decades and have known each other for as long, so they informally reached out to one another throughout the past year, the rabbi said.

“We have just had to find other ways to fulfill our mission. Zoom is better than nothing,” Kozberg said.

Temple Shalom plans to hold in-person worship services starting April 16.

Uniting the community

Members of the Hindu Temple of Dayton, at 2615 Temple Lane in Beavercreek, have been participating in entirely remote worship for the past year.

The temple only this month opened up for smaller groups. The temple hosted worship over Zoom and held several classes on Hindu teachings and special prayers for healing. Temple programs that were routine continued online through fast work by some tech-savvy board members, Ravi Khanna, a member of the temple board and the Hindu Community of Springfield, said.

“We really encourage the whole community to look at this pandemic as a situation that has been stressful on a personal level for many people, you know, disease and financial issues or job losses, all of that has happened, but also maybe as a call to get together and come together as a community,” Khanna said. “So actually it was about unity. We look at the world as one family, because we see divinity everywhere. We see God everywhere, we see divine in everybody.”

Lessons for going forward

Several leaders say having streaming availability is important as many churches have a large older population who have chosen to stay in place and this option allows that.

“There is a portion of our population who may not return to church,” Atwater admitted. “We have to be creative and open to pursue our mission.”

Atwater’s services for High Street on YouTube and Facebook have even attracted viewers from out of state, which pleases her. Metcalfe has seen similar results.

Covenant has gained members through its YouTube services, pivoting to focus on families and children and had several younger families join.

“It’s helped our church to get outside of a box we needed to get out of. We’ve embraced technology and looking to how we can use it better,” Metcalfe said, including working with people with technical expertise.

At the same time, Tammy Hickman, office manager of Northminster Presbyterian is concerned for older members who don’t have computers, leaving more to consider.

Most are in favor of continuing with the hybrid forms of livestreaming and in-person sermons.

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