WESTFIELD-The Rev. Bruce Arbour of First United Methodist Church on Court Street said one of the most challenging aspects of leading the congregation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been staying connected with members.
“Our church family is very close with a wonderful welcoming Spirit,” said Arbour, adding he also misses the pastoral calling in homes and care facilities, hospital visits, and other care ministries that remain on hold to protect those most at risk for contracting the coronavirus.
“We miss the fellowship and seeing one another on Sundays,” he added.
Arbour recently returned from a church conference and noted that among the recommendations was to follow local school guidelines when resuming classes for young people.
“We continue to offer classes via Zoom,” said Arbour. “Our conference has recommended we follow local schools, but our parents feel that they would like to continue on Zoom for the time being.”
Arbour credits Heather White, director of religious education, for having done an “outstanding job” keeping the program engaged during the pandemic.
Arbour noted he is using a “hybrid model” to ensure that weekly messages are received by as many people as possible.
“We have decided that Facebook Live has extended outreach far beyond our community and has made it easy for folks to try church in the comfort of their home,” said Arbour, adding he never stopped performing the service from the Sanctuary.
“Folks have said they appreciated seeing the familiar visual and the quality of our musical offering has been offered by Ben Durfee, our director of music ministry,” said Arbour.
Another way for church members to stay connected has been with “virtual hymn sings” on the second and fourth Thursday of the month on Facebook Live.
Arbour noted that in-person attendance only returned on Sept. 13.
“We still offer the online service via Facebook Live and attendance there is great with folks watching the service throughout the day and week, as many as 80 to 100 a week,” said Arbour. “In-person has not reflected a confidence in folks coming out. We are averaging 16 to 24 a week, with most on communion Sundays.”
Since the pandemic gripped the area, Arbour added that church members have remained faithful in their giving.
“From the onset we have emphasized that only the building is closed, the ministry has remained open,” said Arbour. “The future is still uncertain as to what the church will look like, but we are trying to stay ahead to meet the needs of our congregation and community.”
As for the holiday season soon upon us, Arbour said a “re-opening team” has been formed to discuss holiday services.
“Christmas is one of the greatest seasons for singing,” said Arbour, adding that because of the increased risk of spreading the virus while singing, it was necessary to suspend singing at services, particularly indoors.
“Let’s see how creative we can get,” said Arbour, of his re-opening team’s plans.
Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of stories highlighting the ways church leaders have adapted church life to the coronavirus pandemic. For church leaders who would like to share their story, email Westfield News Editor Hope Tremblay at [email protected].