Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois, which already has offered resources to churches in response to COVID-19.“Some changes are going to be required,” Kim said. “The church is a very creative institution. In the end it will find ways of fulfilling its mission.”In Western Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has indefinitely…

Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois, which already has offered resources to churches in response to COVID-19.

“Some changes are going to be required,” Kim said. “The church is a very creative institution. In the end it will find ways of fulfilling its mission.”

In Western Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has indefinitely cancelled all public Masses, and recently rescinded permission for parishioners to pray individually at their churches.

Funeral Masses were still allowed with a maximum attendance of 25; the diocese said the times of those Masses were not to be shared in the media,

“Lack of access to the churches and Eucharist is particularly difficult for many older parishioners whose entire daily routine is built around getting up, out of the house, and going to Mass,” said the Rev. Mark Stelzer, who has served in the diocese as a parish priest and college chaplain.

The Rev. William Tourigny, pastor of Ste. Rose de Lima Church in Chicopee, Massachusetts, said his parish had a solid financial foundation and expected it could maintain all programs and staff payroll for the time being.

“For smaller faith-based communities with little or no reserved funds, difficult decisions will need to be made,” he said.

Joe Wright, executive director of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network in Nashville said many pastors in the network have been holding regular in-person services, while monitoring the spread of the virus.

“Once the coronavirus rises to the level where it starts hitting smaller groups, then we’ll see even the smaller groups back away and seek ways to gather, probably electronically,” he said.

When that happens, Wright said, financial giving will depend on the church, especially the age of the congregations.

“Some churches with older congregations do not give electronically so the transition to that will be a little bit harder,” he said.

Ron Klassen, executive director of Rural Home Missionary Association, said it’s too early to say how the rural churches he represents are being impacted.

“My sense is that in the past, people rise up and, if anything, the giving might increase,” he said. “People are going to give. They’ll take care of their church and their community.”

In Baltimore, pastor Gwynn worries that tensions might rise past the point that church outreach programs can help.

“With all the uncertainty, I’m afraid this could turn into anarchy,” he said. “Not everybody’s patient. Not everybody’s law abiding.”

He even envisioned the possibility of a stampede toward the goods being doled out after church’s annual food drive.

“My biggest fear right now is what’s happening to the minds of our people,” Gwynn said. “How long can we hold them together?’

___

AP Religion Editor Gary Fields contributed.

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