Delivering the Message

Sunday, March 22, 2020
Hope Reformed Church in Spencer hosted a drive-in service Sunday morning. Rev. Russell Muilenburg bundled up in the windy, low 30 degree temperatures and delivered the message to a full parking lot of cars using an FM frequency.
Photo by Randy M. Cauthron

Area churches turn to social media, alternative methods to share Gospel

In light of current circumstances and statewide restrictions associated with attempts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, area churches were forced to find new ways to get the message out Sunday.

For some, the challenge was a simple fix, rely on a social media distribution of the faith message which many already utilize — streaming on websites or using services like Zoom or Facebook Live.

Others — like Hope Reformed Church in Spencer and Hope Lutheran — offered drive-in worship where cars parked and listened as the pastor used a low level FM transmitter to broadcast on a car radio.

One thing was for certain, the pews in the churches were empty and most churches are seeking the best way to get the Lenten season message out to their respective congregations. For many, these are unchartered water in extraordinary times as churches have been forced to put an end to weekend services in their individual houses of worship.

“I certainly have never seen a time like this where we have been asked not to meet,” said Rev. Russell Muilenburg, pastor at Hope Reformed. “I understand it, and it would be unwise and even unloving for us to continue in-person meetings. Nobody likes it, but I believe if we all bear some of the burden we will make it through, and the church may even be stronger in the end.”

About 50 cars pulled into the Hope Lutheran parking lot in Everly Sunday to hear Rev. Dan Taylor from the front lawn of the church via radio connection. (Pictured) Ushers used tennis rackets with bags attached to take collection.
Photo by Paula Buenger

“It is not at all the same, but we had to move locations twice a year when we rented the school auditorium,” said Rev. Jordan Gowing, with CrossWinds Church in Spencer.

He noted the annual moves were connected to their agreement with the school’s use of the old middle school auditorium for fall and spring plays. They will be streaming their service on their website.

“With that history, our congregation is flexible when having to make changes to the routine,” Gowing said.

Rev. Jen Henry, who serves the community of Bethany Lutheran is no stranger to being forced into creative sharing of the word. Citing 9/11, she also noted times when she’s been called to lead extra services, ecumenical services, prayers in restaurants or community halls, as well as special hymns for unity and healing. This is just one of those times.

“To maintain spiritual life, folks have many ways to stay creatively connected to their church community,” she said. “Our Sunday and Lenten worship services are suspended, but we have decided that our first service back will be an Easter service. No matter what month that will be. The alleluia and flowers and Easter egg hunts will all be resurrected — pun intended.”

Her church will use Zoom as well as offering daily devotions and Bible stories with their online platform.

Both Rev. JoAnn Thomas, with First Christian Church of Spencer, and Rev. Elizabeth Odor, with Langdon Methodist, are utilizing Facebook Live to lead services.

“My Facebook live presence came out of a snow storm, me liking the message I had written and not wanting to give up that time,” Odor said. “People of faith need to remember that the church is not the building. that we are the church in all that we do. How can you be the church to those who need you the most?”

“This is the time more than ever before for the Church to operate outside of its four walls,” said Rev. Nick Hanges, senior pastor of Foundation Church which will also stream services. “It is a time for us to join together, forsaking denomination and cliques of religion, and unite in the common cause that is Jesus Christ. It is time for us to actually practice what we preach and put our faith into action.”

Members of the Spencer Ministerial Association say the proclamation from the Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, declaring a Public Health Disaster last week essentially shuttered churches from holding traditional weekend services.

The proclamation prohibited gatherings and events of more than 10 people.

Hanges and Gowing, along with Mark Feuto, indicated a willingness to help any church set up streaming and providing licensing information.

Muilenburg and Feuto offered other church leaders the opportunity to use their respective equipment at Hope Church and Living Word Outreach.

Joining the livestream group, First Congregational Church will use its YouTube channel to share its message; and Grace United Methodist will rely on Facebook and its website to reach its congregation.

In addition to livestreaming its services on Sunday mornings through YouTube, Faith Lutheran and Rev. Lee Laaveg will use livestream for its Wednesday evening Lenten service, and during Holy Week will be providing both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services as well.

Muilenburg pointed out, “I am really thankful for the technology we have that allows us to stay connected even if we can not be in the same physical space with one another. This sort of ‘national quarantine’ would look and feel very different without the tools that the internet provides us.”

Living Word Outreach Ministry church leaders conduct communion during its online broadcast Sunday morning after their praise team started things off with music.
Photo by Randy M. Cauthron

First Congregational Church co-pastor, Rev. Wendy VanTassell, encouraged, “What looks like a time of scarcity and panic, can be for us a time to discover abundance in new ways and places, and comfort and peace through the extravagant love which God gives us to give away in creative ways to our neighbor.”

She suggested everyone to set their alarms for 7 a.m. each day and pray.

“A dozen years ago eastern Iowa was hit by disastrous flooding along the Cedar and Iowa rivers,” said Rev. Paul Frederiksen, pastor of GUMC. “Living in that area in June 2008 it was life-changing to see the people pull together, accept mutual sacrifice, and drop everything to become a neighbor to even strangers. I pray that God works not only here but around the world to redeem this current malady, that humans would experience our need to share the only home we have.”

Muilenburg suggested people put their time at home to good use for both a personal and spiritual benefit.

“I would encourage people to use the time of isolation to read their Bibles, pick up a phone and spend time talking with people you cannot meet in person, and use the online resources local churches are producing, as well as some of the great worship and devotional material being put out by larger national ministries,” Muilenburg said. “At the same time, use discernment. Some preachers and ministries are making false claims about divine protection if you just have enough faith. It will take faith to get through these tough times, but God’s plan for us just might be that we suffer with one another, not that we will get a free pass because we live under the banner of Jesus.”

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