Parishioners Can Still Come Together – While Staying Apart
Worshiping in public with friends and family was taken for granted before COVID-19 hit earlier this year. As the holiday season approaches, the question is: How can churchgoers stay safe while still coming together for prayer, especially during a time when many need it most? In Coral Gables, churches are looking to answer that question with increasingly new and inventive ideas.
At Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ, Pastor Laurie Hafner has come up with an innovative new way for her congregation to come together while staying apart: Drive-in services. For monthly communion, attendees drive to the church parking lot, where they are met with greeters who hand out bags with the bulletin and communion sets inside, along with some snacks. Parishioners tune into an FM radio station that broadcasts the service inside their vehicles and respond at key times by honking their horns, moving their windshield wipers or blinking their lights for the Passing of the Peace.
Halfner admits that her congregation is itching to come back to in-person services, but not at the expense of the health and wellness of others. While the church waits to open back up, they also perform regular services over Zoom, which Hafner has dubbed “virch” or virtual church. People from all over the globe attend every Sunday, from places like Tahiti, Panama, England and Ohio.
The First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables has also been performing virtual services since March 15, with Pastor Hedy Collver creating pre-produced videos every week to address the need for continued worship. Recently, she began doing live streams of in-person services, which have returned – albeit with social distancing measures in place. “Everybody’s been taking it seriously,” Collver says. “We have been very careful.”
The proof is in a large floor plan Collver created in the church entrance. It shows every pew, many of which are roped off, with each available seat covered with a numbered Post-it. Worshipers remove the Post-it for their chosen seat, which indicates it has been taken. Attendance is only at about 20 percent, but Collver and her parishioners are happy to be back inside their place of worship.
Over at Saint Augustine Church, Father Richard Vigoa started doing online mass and other events, like Parish Town Hall, which informed parishioners of the latest updates and brought in speakers like Mario Enzler, a former Swiss Guard who served Pope Saint John Paul II. This is the silver lining – that many speakers usually unable to attend a service in Coral Gables can now be Zoomed in.
“I think that online mass and the different shows we’ve been doing have been a lifeline for our parishioners because they feel that they’re still connected to the parish,” says Father Vigoa. “Although they may not feel safe venturing outside, they still have that outlet and that reminder that the spiritual life is the most important thing right now to help them get over this serious, anxious time.”
At the end of May, Saint Augustine Church started conducting in-person services again and are now allowing about 30 percent of their usual capacity inside. Father Vigoa is confident that they will be back to full capacity as soon as a vaccine is available.