ONTARIO — The ever-evolving landscape of limiting contact with others to combat the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19 has caused overnight changes for many local faith-based organizations. While many have canceled services, some will offer them online for the time being and one local church will offer more service times to avoid getting too many people in at one time.
St. Matthew’s opts to close and use social media for worship
On Friday, we reported that St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church was making adjustments to its services but still meeting. We found out late Friday afternoon, however, that the decision has been made to postpone services there through March.
“I was making this decision yesterday, but then in prayerful thought with Deacon Janet Warner [of the Eastern Oregon Episcopal Diocese], we decided it was best to be safe than sorry,” according to Sean Rogers, lay pastoral leader for the church who has been running it since Rev. Jim Mosier’s official retirement.
Part of this decision is geographical, according to Rogers, as the greater Treasure Valley has more than 700,000 people and Ontario and surrounding areas get frequent daily traffic from cities all the way to Boise coming to the area to work and recreate.
“The point is we might be a small community, but we’re still in amidst the community,” Rogers said.
The Diocese is actually suggesting (but not yet mandating) that churches wait to lift the closure until Easter Day, April 12.
Rogers said each church in the Diocese is choosing whether to temporarily shutter its doors, with some choosing to stay open.
“We have had many different directions we could go into,” he said. “For us, that’s why we’re waiting until the end of the month, just to reassess.”
“This can be an exciting time for us to learn new ways of worship. It doesn’t have to be defined as coming into a building at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. It doesn’t have to be defined by walls and time and should be defined by many other considerations,” he said.
For this reason, St. Matthew’s is looking at creative ways of providing worship, including providing sermons, along with prayers, songs and mediations via social media.
This way “people can be in worship while we’re not in this building, it’s actually so neat,” Rogers said.
This Sunday, the presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching at the National Cathedral, and that will be available to be streamed online.
To watch online, visit the church’s Facebook page at http://bit.ly/SME_ONT.
SRCI will ‘join hands spiritually’
Rogers also runs the Grace Chapel at Snake River Correctional Institution, which he says has also canceled worship for the time being. Their services there include Wednesday evening prayer and Saturday evening worship.
But they want to keep things going for the prison, and as such, Rogers is working on sending weekly worship material to the chaplain at SRCI “so we can join hands spiritually.”
Blessed Sacrament adds more Masses
The Ontario Knights of Columbus on Friday announced they would be following their fish fry Fridays for the remainder of the Lenten season.
The church, according to Rev. Joseph P. Thomas C.S.T., has actually suspended all activities except for Mass.
In addition, as of Friday the church added more Masses “to help minimize the crowds, so that fewer people can attend during those times.
Sunday Masses will be available in English at 8, 9 and 10 a.m., and in Spanish at noon and 1 p.m.
Origins Faith suspends services at church and day shelter
Origins Faith Community’s leadership team met on Thursday to gather facts and evaluate its position regarding the emerging pandemic. The decision was made to suspend worship for the next two Sundays, according to a news release from James Vogt, pastor. Church officials will evaluate and make adjustments as necessary in the coming days.
During the closure, the church will still offer online faith options throughout the week to help its congregation “stay connected and to offer a voice of hope to those in our community who may need it in this uncertain time.
“We are making this decision out of a sense of respect and support for the community at large and want to partner with the numerous organizations and entities who are already making hard decisions in an effort to stem the rate of infection in our area. While Origins Sunday gatherings are not at the 250-person limit set by the governor, we are still a large gathering of people, many of whom fit in the documented “high-risk” categories. We simply want to do our part to limit risk,” reads the release. “It is very apparent that one person who doesn’t get infected with this virus represents multiple other people who also don’t get infected and we think that is a good thing. In the meantime, we are actively looking for ways to support our neighborhood and those who may be in vulnerable situations because of this crisis.”
In addition, some of the services currently being offered at the New Hope Day Shelter and Meal Site will be suspended effective Monday “for an indefinite amount of time.”
“We will however continue to serve easily transportable meals from the Meal Site location from 3:00-4:00 each weekday.”
Latter-day Saints adjust temple worship, too
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced temporary adjustments to temple worship, effective Monday, Mar. 16:
Where government or other restrictions on public and/or religious gatherings would, in effect, preclude temple activity, proxy and living ordinances are temporarily suspended.
In absence of restrictions, only family sealing, initiatory and endowment ordinances for the living will be performed, with limited guest presence permitted (with current temple recommend). Proxy ordinances will temporarily be suspended in this case.
All patron housing will be closed.
Church members will be given instructions when they make appointments for living ordinances. Steps will be taken in all temples to minimize the risk of spreading the virus, including updated guidelines for interacting with patrons.
In their statement, the First Presidency assured members that temple work would move forward, and offered them hope as the Church prepares for these measures.
“Additional information will be provided to temple presidencies, and further adjustments will be made as necessary.
We look forward with great anticipation to the time when temples can again operate at full capacity and extend the blessings of temple work to members and their ancestors.”
The Church announced Thursday that all public gatherings are suspended until further notice. Temples are closed to the public and require current recommends for entry.
Corey Evan contributed to this article.