Friday, May 29, 2020

Local churches keep faith as some prepare to reopen

Catholics in Windham and Raymond who attend
 Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Windham
 will be to worship at church again starting next week,
 but with some restrictions as a result of the
 COVID-19 pandemic. Shown is the statue of Mar
 in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help garden.
By Ed Pierce

Area churches have kept the faith despite some trying times the past few months yet are planning the way forward with an eye on safety and health in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the state imposing restrictions for in-person worship gatherings on March 15 to protect the public from the coronavirus, many churches launched unique initiatives to connect with congregations in other ways while awaiting opportunities to reopen. Some restrictions for church gatherings have been lifted effective May 29 based upon guidelines and recommendations made to Gov., Janet Mills by the Maine Council of Churches and paving the way for churches to reopen across the state.

Rev. Jane Field is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Windham and serves as Executive Director of Maine Council of Churches. She helped craft guidelines for reopening churches across the state including allowing worship services of up to 50 people; mandating that face mask coverings be worn, following proper social distancing, eliminating handshakes and personal contact, and thoroughly cleaning surfaces following gatherings. said that Faith Lutheran’s small and vibrant congregation has adapted to changing times and strived to keep all church members engaged and involved during the pandemic.
We are a family-sized congregation, which means everyone knows each other very, very well.  We don't let anyone slip between the cracks,” Field said. “We have one member who is 101 years old and living in a retirement community that is on lockdown, so we all take turns calling her several times a week as she has limitations that make it impossible for her to join us for online worship or prayer services.”
She said another way that church members have stayed unified in the absence of regular church worship is through nightly prayer services conducted online on Zoom from Tuesday through Saturday.
“It’s a great way to speak with everyone, to be able to see how folks are doing, and take stock of what help, if any, anyone needs,” Field said.  “We also offer online bible study classes, and we gather for worship every Sunday morning via Zoom. We like that platform because it is live, in real-time, and participants can engage and speak with one another unlike just watching a pre-recorded sermon or service privately on your own time.” to Field, it has been very difficult to offer pastoral care to those who have been hospitalized during the pandemic because of the prohibition on visitors, so Faith Lutheran has relied on hospital chaplains to provide care and has stayed in touch with them through the chaplains.
“We are all holding up well, staying connected and enjoying some of the innovation and creativity we can experiment with in our worship services such as video clips, power point presentations, and dialogue sermons,” Field said. “We have also adapted a communion liturgy to be appropriate for online services, not holy communion, but a sharing in broken bread and cup, each in our own home, with prayers of thanksgiving and lament.”

Rev. Sally Colegrove, pastor of the Windham Hill United Church of Christ, said that she has been writing a column and sending it to her congregation every day during the pandemic.

“I try to include news from members, things that are happening in the world, concern for the seven of our members who are in the medical professions and spiritual meditations and prayers,” Colegrove said. “On Sundays we are holding Zoom worship services at 10 a.m. Anyone is welcome to join us, they just have to send me their email address so that I can send them the zoom address and password.”

Colegrove said that the church carillon is rung every day for about a half hour as a message to the Windham Hill UCC congregation and neighbors that they are still there, and still thinking about them, and still maintaining a presence here on Windham Hill even as they move to Zoom gatherings.

“We are thinking about how we can respond as a congregation to the needs of those around us. We have helped out with a small delivery of fuel oil and are ready to assist if we hear of those who are in need of food,” she said.
“Several of our members, mostly our college young people, have volunteered to do grocery shopping for elders and we have paired up shoppers and those in need. I have been calling the members of the congregation to check in, and many of our folk have also been checking with one another to stay connected.”

Catholics in Windham and Raymond who attend Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Windham have been able to watch Mass posted online every day courtesy of the Diocese of Portland, but will also have an option to worship at church next week.

Starting June 1. the Diocese of Portland is allowing Maine Catholic churches to hold public Masses with restrictions and safeguards in place.
The regular weekday and weekend Mass schedule at Our Lady of Perpetual Help will be offered at 8 and 10:15 a.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. and Saturdays at 4 p.m.

Diocese officials say that facial masks or face coverings are required to attend, with social distancing guidelines maintained and no more than 50 worshippers allowed in church at one time.“We are, of course, anxious to return to our churches and have the opportunity to celebrate Mass,” said Bishop Robert Deeley in a press release. “We have been preparing for the last few weeks for a safe restoration of Mass in accord with the guidelines of the CDC. There are a lot of things involved, but we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe and fulfill the mission of the church.”

For Catholic parishioners uncomfortable at attending church in person at this time, Deeley said that a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass continues to be in place, and the extensive list of live-streamed Masses being offered at churches around Maine ( will continue as most parishioners won’t be able to attend in person due to the capacity restrictions.

Some of the restrictions may seem to be too cautious for the faithful who wish to return to public Masses at this time,” said the bishop. “However, ensuring the safety and health of our clergy, employees, students, volunteers, parishioners, and the greater community remains our top priority.” <

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