The COVID-19 crisis has had ramifications in all areas of Suffield life. We hear quite a bit about how the schools are coping, but it’s important to remember that the churches have to find ways to carry out their missions as well. There are arrangements that most of them have in common; for example, except for Sacred Heart, they are holding services on line. Sacred Heart is holding in-house services with restrictions to ensure safety.
In most cases there is no one in any of the church buildings, and business is carried out by telephone or on Zoom. During the summer, some held outdoor services with appropriate distancing and masks. All mentioned conducting graveside services in lieu of funerals and only recorded music is used on any and all of these occasions. Pastoral counseling is more important in these stressful times than ever, but activities such as hospital or home visits have to be done by phone, perhaps occasionally by Skype or Zoom. The Third Baptist Church’s Board of Deacons assists the minister in making such calls.
The most impressive on-going activities have to do with each church’s commitment to its community outreach efforts. For example, the West Suffield Congregational Church has continued with Food Share donations as well as with its own food pantry and with Loaves and Fishes. Second Baptist Church has kept its traditional Red Cross blood drive going, and is instituting a coat drive as the Observer goes to press. First Church supports Suffield Community Aid with food donations and has held a special drive-by tribute to veterans with a unique combination of baked goods and prayers for each recipient.
All the churches are working to plan Advent and Christmas services, realizing that many adjustments will need to be made and all such celebrations will be vastly different this year. Sacred Heart will hold in-house services, but with reservations in order to keep the numbers within required limits. Second Baptist hopes to have caroling outdoors. Others are still in the planning stages.
Each church perceives its own set of challenges. Among those mentioned were the inability to care in a personal way for the sick and dying and their families; the unfulfilled need that church members have to worship together in the sanctuary; the lack of choral music, since singing together is dangerous in these times; the technology that many have had to learn very quickly and are not always comfortable with; keeping parishioners connected in new and unusual ways; maintaining creativity through many months of “making-do;” and as one minister said, “just not being able to hug anybody.” On the other hand, all five of our local churches noted that they plan to continue recording their services in the future, in order to make communal worship available to those who for one reason or another are unable to attend in person–a positive side effect of these troubled times.
One of the ministers put the situation in a way that was forceful and moving: “The church is not its buildings. The church is its people. The most important thing we do is helping our congregations to stay connected.” Another, when asked if he had additional comments, replied: “Just tell folks to keep the faith.” Well said on both counts, and all would agree!