In a year of much change and turbulence, Bedford welcomes two new pastors to the community. Interim pastor The Rev. Leah Goodwin joined First Baptist Church in late May, and The Rev. Jonathan Manor became pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Savior (LCS) in mid-March. The two have been presented with unprecedented circumstances in the religious community amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
As local congregations have been unable to meet in accordance with mandatory closures, many have had to adapt to serve their community in alternative ways. The First Church of Christ airs their worship service on Bedford TV as well as on the streaming platform Vimeo. Others have taken to Zoom, YouTube, or Facebook Live to broadcast in real-time. At LCS, Bible Studies and Life Groups have continued to meet over Zoom. Regardless, it has been a learning period for houses of worship everywhere.
These challenges haven’t stopped members of these communities from worshipping, however. “We actually have more people worshipping with us than we would if we were open in person,” explained the Rev. Christopher Wendell of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At-home access has proved to bring in many who are unable to attend in-person weekly worships, who welcome the ease of worshipping from home. Manor shared that he has had similar experiences with members of the LCS community; “we have people come from a wide variety of communities, some as much as 45 minutes away, and some of our leaders are those who come from far away. [Now they can] come for an hour meeting and give an hour instead of three.”
Leaders of local houses of worship will soon face another set of challenges as they are now able to re-open physical services. Houses of worship are included in phase one of Governor Charlie Baker’s four-phase reopening plan. They are required to follow certain guidelines should they choose to reopen, including capping attendance to 40% of capacity, social distancing, and the use of face coverings.
For Manor, the opportunity to reopen is an exciting one. Having just moved to Bedford in March, he has only been able to meet members of his congregation virtually. For him, “the most difficult part has been not getting to meet people and them not being able to be here.” The Lutheran Church of the Savior will reopen for their first in-person worship this Sunday, June 7. “We’ve been working very diligently to ensure we are satisfying all the requirements of the local and state government.”
Others are electing to delay in-person worship for now. The First Church of Christ and First Baptist Church will remain closed for the upcoming future. They are following advisories put in place by the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church of Massachusetts who have all recommended they remain closed until at least July. Similarly, First Baptist Church has elected to continue virtual sermons over Zoom at least through the summer.
The Rev. John Castricum of First Church of Christ supports the advisory passed down to him. “The last thing we want is people getting sick because of our worship, that would be the worst,” he said. He also mentioned that returning to worship included other risks that may not instantly come to mind. “You can’t really sing. If you’re singing, you’re projecting into the air. And if you have a virus, that’s going all over the place.” A common fear among the churches is excluding those who may feel uncomfortable attending by reopening soon. Castricum noted that many members of FCC are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, and they wouldn’t “even think about coming back until they’re absolutely assured they’re going to be safe, and we have quite a few of those.”
Even once services reopen, many congregations plan on continuing to offer virtual services for those who feel uncomfortable attending or who may not be able to attend otherwise. The Rev. John Gibbons, senior minister at First Parish Unitarian Universalist, noted that while they may reopen as early as this fall, they are prepared to continue to offer virtual services through May 2021.
Goodwin feels that many lessons can be learned from houses of worships’ experiences during the past few months, and hopes to carry these lessons with her in her time at First Baptist Church and beyond. “This is going to be the kick that churches need to rethink some of their practices and think outside the box… I think it’s been very easy, and I’m part of the problem, for people to become complacent and stick with what we know… there’s so many gifts that churches can share. There’s too much to share and too much to give for everybody to stay contained in their own little boxes,” she explained, “we are the Church whether we are physically together in our building or not.”