Church pastor: ‘This has been the strangest Holy Week I have ever experienced’

  • The Rev. Carlos Jauhola-Straight of the South Congregational Church will be leaving for a new church in Pelham, but plans for a send-off are up in the air because of COVID-19. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/10/2020 3:29:00 PM

Lots of people are staying home for the holiday this weekend.
Once, those words were happy, cozy. No more. Now, the impact of those words is palpable, and here’s why:

Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, but church doors will be closed and locked, thanks to the coronavirus. The show will go on, however.

As Pastor Emilia Halstead of the First Congressional Church said by phone, “Just because we are apart does not mean we cannot share in the spirit of the resurrection together. Join us on zoom-cam webinar.”

In this zany, quarantined world comes yet another example of zaniness. Easter Sunday, celebrated remotely. For seniors not comfortable with computers, call the grandchildren, because you might need help.

“Every single one of us is living this new reality,” Halstead told me. “All the churches are learning the best practices moving forward and new ways of communicating.”

Halstead’s bio on the church website says she “is no stranger to the rich traditions of the historic church ... She is also acutely aware of the winds of change that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the wider church.”

Sunday, those churches will be wider than ever, stretching across neighborhoods nationwide. With the virus battering the world for a month now, religious leaders were wise to look ahead. Just in case.

“I do roll with the punches,” Halstead said. “We have to make sure members are not left in the dark.”

She’s got support, part of a three-pronged alliance that has been working double-time to make Easter Sunday happen. While Halstead broadcasts live from her home, pastors from the South Congregational Church, the Revs. Jared Rardin and Carlos Jauhola-Straight will be leading the service, from their homes as well.

“It’s been a challenging time to be the church, but probably no more so than for other organizations,” Rardin wrote in an email. “In fact, these past few weeks have reminded us how blessed we are to have an ‘extended family’ of hundreds and to know that many are praying for you and one another.”

Jauhola-Straight finds himself in strange waters. He’s leaving next month after 14 years to lead a congregation in Pelham. He assumes we’ll still be in lockdown when it’s time to say goodbye.

And when that happens, don’t get too close. And no hugs, no handshakes, nothing. In fact, figure out another way to reach out to him before he leaves.

“This is not the way we thought we would gather to worship,” Jauhola-Straight said. “It’s sad because I cannot say goodbye in the way that I want to.”

Jauhola-Straight knows how to attract an audience, adding a little color to the scene, which is why his church members are so sad. He has coffee with worshipers via webinar. He plays music, listens to people, talks to them about his relationship with God.

Technologically, he’s more familiar than most in the clergy, and he’s already started to bid farewell to people remotely.

Still, this method of reaching people on Sunday took time to coordinate.

“It gives me the opportunity to be creative,” Jauhola-Straight said, “but there were a few times where it certainly would have been easier to gather together in person. As I get ready to transition to a new role, I would love to gather with folks, but that does not mean it’s going to happen this year.”

It won’t.

Church leaders are entering uncharted territory. Pastor Virginia Fryer of the Bow Mills United Methodist Church said its Eastern Sunrise Service will be shown on the church YouTube channel at 5:30 a.m. Also included will be singing, musicians playing remotely, scripture and children’s time.

“This has been the strangest Holy Week I have ever experienced,” Fryer wrote in an email. “Like most people, I and others are experiencing the range of human emotions, from life to death, from grief to joy.”

Sunday services, strange as they are, will focus on the good – people joining together in prayer, watching out for one another. The South and First Churches will open with a Sunrise Online Service at 6 a.m. The regular service, if you can call it that, begins at 10 a.m.

Tim Wildman will be back playing brass. The three pastors will recite from the scriptures and speak for themselves, directly from the heart. There will be singing, pre-recorded videos, fear and hope.

In fact, nothing really different at all.

“Yes, there have been stressful moments,” Halstead said. “The only option is to figure out how to move forward.”

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