‘We’re Waiting:’ Churches across the state grapple with ‘season of exile’ ahead of Holy Week

“It’s the lentiest lent I ever lented."

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“Not everybody wants to go on Facebook live,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody has somebody,” said Rev. Elsa Worth pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in Keene. Photo/Geoff Forester

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Heading into Holy Week churches are deploying various means to keep their congregations connected to each other, and God.

“Even though we are really isolated we are being really intentional about being connected,” said Rev. Elsa Worth pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in Keene.

People are in need and really looking for some sort of spiritual connection, Worth said. So her church’s approach has not been on worship services so much as on shepherding the flock, she said.

“A little bit more pastoral and addressing people’s anxiety,” she said. “It’s a terrible time and people are having a terrible time emotionally. … It’s a time of lament and we’re not used to lament. … This is hard, people are dying all over the world and we have systems that are not addressing this that well.”

Worth says she is using Facebook Live streams, video posts to her website and Zoom to keep church members connected.

“The first two weeks I felt like I was a help desk,” Worth said. “Teaching people how to get onto Zoom and Facebook and writing out instructions. … I had to learn how to use Zoom well and I had to learn how to use iMovie and edit it. It’s been a real learning curve time.”

Worth has been making conversational videos based on that week’s sermon that she posts on the church’s website on Saturday nights.

“We don’t do a service online,” Worth said.

New Hampshire’s Episcopal Bishop Robert Hirschfeld has been providing live worship every Sunday from his home via Zoom as well as live on YouTube.

“We’ve been relying on him for the live service on Sunday,” Worth said.

But she makes her videos because she knows her congregation wants to hear from their clergy. In the short videos, she talks to either the church’s other clergy members Deacon Derek Scalia or intern pastor Kathy Boss.

Additionally, a Lenten class that was taking place Sunday mornings before worship has also been moved to a Zoom video conference. So church members can attend that, watch the Bishop’s service on the New Hampshire Episcopal churches website, then attend a Zoom coffee hour. So Sunday mornings are pretty full, Worth said.

Scalia is also using Facebook Live every night at 9:30 p.m. to say the simple and traditional Compline service or Night Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer.

“Derek started to do it as soon as we were staying home, everyone had to start social distancing,” Worth said.

Church members can sign on to pray with him by friending him on Facebook and can follow along in the Book of Common Prayer.

“It’s a traditional prayer to be said at bedtime,” Worth said. “People find it really comforting. It’s such a reassuring prayer service. It’s sure a great thing to do before bed.”

And sometimes after her morning prayer Worth posts a video on Facebook sharing her thoughts on the morning’s readings. She said she has been using her laptop for Facebook, Zoom and iMovie, though smartphones can be used.

She is also encouraging church members to call and write each other.

“I sent out the church contact list to everyone on the list and have encouraged everyone to call or write three people a day to stay in contact, and contact people that maybe they don’t know that well.”

And on Tuesday, church outreach is going old school. The phone tree will be initiated so that every single member can be checked on.

“Not everybody wants to go on Facebook live,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody has somebody. … The church is really willing to help with groceries and errands.”

Community outreach continues with donations of snacks being dropped off at the church for the homeless every day. “We’re still hosting homeless folks in church every night. … They are pretty much the only people using the church.”

And fundraising for the local food kitchen is ongoing, she said.

Entering Holy Week is disappointing, however, she said. “It’s the lentiest lent I ever lented, I keep telling everybody.”

Worth said she is encouraging people to make signs to proclaim “Hosanna” and place them in their window for Palm Sunday and an “Alleluia” sign for Easter Sunday.  “I’ve encouraged people to pick branches from their yard and make arraignments to remember the triumph over death.”

The church is typically running several services leading up to Easter Sunday during Holy Week, such as the traditional foot washing service on Maundy Thursday, and services and Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and Saturday’s Easter Vigil service.

“How on Earth do we do all that?” Worth said, the answer is they won’t

The bishop plans simple services online for Holy Week and is encouraging churches to keep anything they do this Holy Week simple, Worth said.

“A lot of people are so sad. It’s just not our practice not to have Easter on Easter,” Worth said, adding there will be a celebration for the first Sunday the congregation is finally able to worship together. “We want to have the Easter liturgy when we all come back together.”

But whether or not they want Easter Sunday to come on April 12, it will be on April 12, Worth said.

“We might have a dress-up coffee hour on Zoom that Sunday,” Worth said. “We’re going to acknowledge Easter comes even when you don’t see it,” Worth said. “Resurrection comes after crucifixion. … I think it is a season of exile, like the Bishop said, it really is. We’re waiting.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org


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Meghan Pierce

Meghan Pierce is founder and editor of Monadnock Beat.