Church pews will be empty on Easter Sunday, April 12, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to technology, however, many houses of worship in Lake and Sumter counties plan to livestream religious services over the internet and broadcast them to their members at home.
“First Baptist Church of Wildwood, like every other church, is trying to find ways to adjust ministry in light of the current pandemic the world finds itself in,” says Marc Fennimore, music and education pastor of the church.
“We livestream a service at 10:30am (Sundays) on the church’s Facebook page, on our website, on Boxcast and YouTube,” Marc says. “We also record devotions and other encouragement through those social media outlets.”
The church’s children and student ministries have been providing resources online and there have been Zoom meetings, too.
“Our pastors attempt to stay connected to our people through texting, email and good, old-fashioned phone calling,” Marc says. “Our Caring Hands food and clothing ministry continues to be open the second and fourth Tuesdays, but is only handing out food items. Additionally, we use a one-call system, plus social media, to keep our folks informed.”
He adds the church office is closed, yet phone calls are being forwarded.
First Baptist Church of Wildwood is among most houses of worship that are abiding by government guidelines to stop all events and activities of large gatherings or would violate social distancing measures.
However, the stay-at-home order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 1 does allow Floridians to obtain or provide essential services, and attending services at in houses of worship is listed under the definition of “essential activities.”
The governor has said in news briefings that there are constitutional limits to what he can do, and that by banning houses of worship from holding services would violate the constitutional right to religious freedom.
“We had already decided not to chance spread (of virus) and canceled everything before the designation (from the governor), and we still feel the same way,” Marc says of his church closing its building during the pandemic.
“I hear support for our first amendment right to assemble as Christ followers, and I understand. However, a true shepherd will never lead his sheep to an unsafe place. The shepherd guides, feeds, nurtures as well as protects. It isn’t a question of what we can do, but what we should do,” the Rev. Sidney Brock, lead pastor of Heritage Community Church in Fruitland Park, wrote on Facebook. “Let the church be the church. The significance isn’t in our gatherings but how we will live our life loving God as well as our fellow man.”
The Heritage Community Church pastor has been posting messages and sermons on vimeo.com.
During Holy Week at Catholic churches in the Orlando Diocese, which encompasses nine counties, including Lake and Sumter, the Most Rev. John Noonan, bishop of the diocese, noted in church bulletins that the Catholic churches are “in solidarity with each other throughout the diocese,” and will be livestreaming the following masses:
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 7pm Thursday, April 9 (bilingual); Passion of Our Lord, 3pm Friday, April 10; Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter, 8pm Saturday, April 11 (bilingual) on the following sites:
The Rev. Carlos Bedoya, pastor of St. Mary’s of the Lakes Catholic Church in Eustis, and his staff also have reached out by phone to check on parishioners and to make sure they are able to receive the church bulletin online. One message in the bulletin reads: “We continue to pray for you and your families in this difficult time.”