FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Many church parking lots around the city sat empty this morning as their members were encouraged to stay home amid COVID-19 concerns, but that does not mean they were missing service.
On March 12, Governor Eric Holcomb urged Hoosiers to avoid large non-essential gatherings in an effort to curb any potential COVID-19 spread. It has forced some churches to close their doors but it is not stopping their message. For members of churches like Pathway Community Church, they are getting their Sunday service online
Pathway sees around 3,000 to 4,000 people in their building on any given weekend with a few hundred more tuning in online as they live stream their worship service to their website and on Facebook but this past weekend, the parking lot sat empty. They were planning on holding regular service until Holcomb discouraged gatherings of 250 or more while the state deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. With their size of several thousand worshippers, they decided it was better to ask their members to connect with them through their screens instead.
“We felt like it was important for us to not only go along with that but lead by example and do what we can do to try and limit the spread of the coronavirus so we said, hey, we’ve got the technology, we’ve got the capability to do that so let’s just lean into that,” said Tyler Ward, Adult Ministries Pastor for Pathway.
The church is not worried about the increased traffic to watch their streams because they have been airing their services online for several years now and have the technical support to handle it. They chose to focus on catering the service to the online experience.
“We really have focused more on the content and making that intentional for those watching online-only,” said Pathway Technical Director Nate Decker. “We have chosen to do some camera shots a little differently. We have chosen to have a little bit different band, a little bit of a smaller band, that will be playing and worshipping with everyone viewing today.”
Lauren Loy has attended Pathway services for five years now and used the live stream several times in the past. She said the key to getting the most out of the worship is to be in a comfortable space.
“Especially for the worship part because you really want to have that connection with God in that moment and so it’s really important to just find a nice spot to get comfortable and really dial in just like you would if you were sitting in the chairs,” said Loy.
Even though she is not sitting side-by-side with her church, Loy said that sense of community is still there.
“They have a big chat window that’s available and so as Pastor Ron is speaking you can interact with people and you can type in is, oh, that was a really good point or right now what I’m looking at is people are putting in hallelujahs or they’re singing along.”
Although they are being asked to stay away from the church building, Loy said she does not believe members should stay away from their community as well.
“Part of the message this morning is about not allowing that fear to really drive you,” said Loy. “We’re working in John right now and John’s letter that we’re analyzing is talking about walking in the light and not in the darkness and so I think in this time of darkness, as a Christian, we have to really step out into the light and not allow the fear and the anxiety and the worry of this epidemic drive who we are. Now, do we need to be cautionary? Absolutely. I don’t think we should be going into big situations over 250 people like they’ve suggested but getting out there with your neighbors, serving your neighbors, having dinner with your neighbors, allowing for opportunities to share with them, engage in meals with them, is really important because you don’t know who you can still impact even though we’re practicing this social distancing.”
It is not yet known how long Pathway will have to hold service like this, but Ward says it is a good reminder that a church is not walls and a roof.
“We feel like this is a great opportunity to remind people that the church is not our building or a building. It’s not a worship service but it’s us as people.”
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