In-person services require face masks
Methow Valley churches have continued to provide online services through the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on indoor gatherings. Now, with the loosening of some restrictions, many churches have begun to offer outdoor services as well.
Last Sunday marked the fourth outdoor service at the Community Covenant Church in Twisp, where the service takes place under tents in the church’s parking lot.
“We have been able to do a version of what we would normally do if we were meeting in the building under normal conditions,” said Pastor Jeff Palmberg, who has seen around half the congregation, or 50 people, attending the outdoor services over the past month. “The whole experience is like trying to construct a bridge while crossing it.”
Attendees are asked to wear protective face masks, and while Palmberg noted that singing while wearing a mask may be challenging, members have been overwhelmingly happy to be able to attend the church’s Sunday service in person, albeit slightly altered.
“[For the congregation members] even seeing each other in person makes a difference,” said Palmberg, who has also continued to post the church’s services online, via Facebook, for members who may not be able to attend the in-person services.
Okanogan County is in Phase II of the state’s “Safe Start” re-opening plan, which allows for religious and faith-based organizations to hold indoor services with up to 25% of capacity or 50 individuals, whichever is less. However, many valley churches are choosing to not hold indoor services, opting instead to keep holding services outside.
“We don’t have plans to go inside anytime soon,” said Pastor Jason Suter of Winthrop’s Friendship Alliance Church. “We’re looking at this as a marathon, not a sprint. We know our limitations as a church … and we’re just making sure to move forward faithfully and responsibly.” Masks are required.
“We’re not limited with what we can offer. We don’t feel the restrictions with how we are worshiping,” said Suter. “People are just glad to worship, be it outside or online.”
“Our outdoor numbers are smaller,” noted Suter. “But our online numbers have seen a lot of growth.”
“We record [the service] on Sunday morning and post it online later that day,” said Suter, who provides a live chat during the online service, which has had people tuning in from far outside the Methow Valley.
Suter, who began offering outdoor Sunday services at the church a month ago, noted that there have been a lot of logistics involved in getting the in-person service up and running. The Friendship Alliance Church offers masks and gloves for attendees, and the church building is open for restroom use, but limited to the entry of two people at a time.
The in-person service is held in the church’s backyard, with about 20-25 people in attendance each Sunday, allowing for the congregation to spread out and provide adequate social distancing. With the summer temperatures warming, Suter has moved the start time of the outdoor service an hour earlier, starting at 9 a.m., to allow for cooler temperatures during the service.
Cascade Bible Church in Twisp is also offering outdoor services at 11 a.m., according to the church’s reader board.
The Methow Valley United Methodist Church, on Highway 20 between Twisp and Winthrop, has also begun holding Sunday services earlier, to allow for cooler temperatures during the outdoor service, which is broadcast through low-frequency radio that attendees can tune into via their car while parked in the church’s parking lot.
“We’re doing a bit of an abbreviated service,” said Pastor Kim Poole. “Our service is usually an hour, but we’re doing it in 30 minutes, due to the fact that it’s summer and it can get warm in a car.”
“We still have prayer, we still have scripture reading, and we still have a sermon,” said Poole, who has seen around 75% of the church’s usual attendance.
What’s missing, Poole said, is “…the ability to shake hands or embrace, it’s not being able to sit down and have a potluck dinner. We’re embracing it for what it is, but it will take us time to recover.”