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A year of pandemic: What have we learned?

Editor’s note: We asked clergy and lay leaders across the diocese to answer a question about the past 12 months of pandemic: What was the most important thing you learned in the past year? We received 32 replies, and this article reflects what they said.

When clergy and lay leaders reflect on the past year, and what they have found to be most important, three main responses — phrased in various ways — appear:

  • The importance of online worship services during the pandemic and going forward
  • The need to be flexible in worship and programs
  • Community is essential

Worship goes online

Worship as it had been experienced — people gathering in a church building for one or more services on a Sunday — was the first thing that changed when news of the pandemic arrived in the spring of 2020. Bishop Cathleen Bascom issued a directive on March 16 suspending in-person worship for three weeks. Four days later she delivered the news that in-person worship would be cancelled for two months, including Holy Week and Easter.

By the following Sunday, at least a dozen churches had pivoted to offering worship online, and within weeks many more followed.

Deacon Oliver Bunker, St. Timothy’s, Iola, said online worship quickly began on Facebook with services in his home, but the church since has installed a new audio and video system for better quality. He said they had to adapt weekly as they learned the best camera placement and sound system settings, but “we made it work.”

The Rev. Greg Doll leads worship online
The Rev. Greg Doll, vicar of St. Mark’s, Blue Rapids and St. Paul’s, Marysville, leads an online service for the two congregations. (Photo by Sarah Kessinger)

Sally Gray, senior warden of St. Mark’s, Blue Rapids, said the church had talked about doing something online in the future but once the pandemic hit, “online became the only game in town.”

The Rev. Marc McDonald, rector of St. Andrew’s, Emporia, said the technical skills required to go online “stretched me beyond my limits at times,” adding that having a 17-year-old daughter helped a lot.

Lydia Funk, a member of Trinity, Atchison, thanked her rector, the Rev. Jon Hullinger, for figuring out how to offer Morning and Evening prayer and Holy Eucharist on Facebook and Zoom “without much of a techie background.” She credited Senior Warden Chris Wallen for having the tools and insight to help make it all work.

The Very Rev. Sharon Billman, vicar of St. John’s, Parsons, said that learning how to offer livestreamed worship showed her how deeply the church’s homebound members appreciated the chance to be part of the service, something they hadn’t really considered before.

Many people said that what started as a necessity will become part of their worship plans going forward, to reach out to “those who cannot or do not want to attend in-person services,” according to Vestry member Candy Dials of St. Paul’s, Leavenworth.

The value of online worship to reach beyond parish walls may have no greater advocates than Denise and Mace Thornton, who live in St. Louis, Mo. Early in 2020 they had moved there from Virginia, where they had been part of a loving Episcopal parish. “Covid-19 transformed us into church people without a church,” they said. Denise grew up in Wamego, and through Facebook friends she was invited to online worship from St. Luke’s, Wamego. “Little did we know a connection to a pandemic church family and a loving parish would be made through the Zoom window meeting platform,” they said, giving them “new friends, new hope and new faith in a better tomorrow.” Once they can travel they plan to visit Wamego because, they said, “we have a lot of new church friends to meet face-to-face.”

Flexibility

Worship outdoors at St. Luke's, Shawnee
Melissa Pfau, treasurer of St. Luke’s, Shawnee, shares a socially distanced exchange of the Peace during a parking lot service last year.

Melissa Pfau, treasurer at St. Luke’s, Shawnee, said she learned how adaptable her church could be. “We couldn’t go in the building so we streamed, recorded and had outdoor worship. We couldn’t meet for fellowship so we had Zoom Friday Fellowship and Zoom coffee hour. We couldn’t have Sunday School so we had Zoom Sunday School. All with great results. We are adaptable, strong and resilient.”

The Very Rev. Vicki Smith, rector of St. David’s, Topeka, said that the congregation has pulled together even while moving parish life online. “People have stepped up to keep us not only going, but relatively thriving,” she said.

Community is key

The value of the community, and the need to stay in touch with members, was a crucial part of the past year for many churches. The Rev. Steve Lipscomb, rector of St. Paul’s, Leavenworth, said he came to realize “just how important each person is to the full ministry of the church,” as well as the sheer number of people it takes to accomplish all a church undertakes.

Tom Kite, senior warden of the Church of the Covenant, Junction City, said he had taken his Christian community for granted until they could no longer be together. Its value includes “seeing other parishioners walk into the church, the smiles of greeting, the exchange of the peace, and the visiting and gathering after the service.”

Deacon Karen Wichael, St. Luke’s, Shawnee, said making contact with each parishioner weekly was essential, so everyone would know “that they are cared for and cared about.” Senior Warden Rose Wrede said during the first week of the pandemic, the church divided the parish into 12 groups, each one with a person designated to stay in touch with every family.

Jan Noyes, senior warden at St. Andrew’s, Emporia, said she has always know the power of prayer but learned how comforted people are to hear that a church member had been praying for them.

Sarah Kessinger, Vestry member at St. Paul’s, Marysville, said she had learned “the power of face-to-face
interaction,” and without being able to be together, she has seen people of all ages struggling.

And being small can be an advantage, according to the Rev. Laird MacGregor, vicar of St. Martin’s, Edwardsville. “We have found that we are exceedingly flexible and nimble,” he said.

Young people respond

The Rev. Kelly Demo, assistant rector at St. Thomas’, Overland Park, asked youth of the parish to reflect on what they had learned during the past year. Here is what they said.

“I learned how much I rely on other people.” — Lily Spinner

“Sometimes fun stuff can get boring.” — Keeley Gralapp

“I have learned how to handle new emotions and high stress. Also how to endure lack of motivation. —Amelia Whittier

“Patience.” — Jonah Gralapp

“I learned a lot about myself. Also that people depend on other people to survive.” — Asher Demo

“I have learned not to take opportunities for granted.” – Kelsey Phillips

“I have learned how to stick with a goal.” — Alli Phillips

“Don’t take things for granted. Apparently the apocalypse can happen.” — Mason Bedell

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