COVID-19 affects Highland Lakes churches

The marquee outside of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Marble Falls says it all. As congregations deal with the coronavirus pandemic, many are canceling regular worship services and using online and other creative ways to meet members' spiritual needs. Staff photo by Alex Copeland

Highland Lakes churches are adapting as quickly as they can as new developments emerge relating to COVID-19. Many are promoting social distancing and other preventive measures, rescheduling confirmations, and encouraging people to attend weddings and funerals in small numbers.

More and more, Sunday worship services are moving exclusively online through streaming and video conference services such as Facebook Live and Zoom.

“Luckily, we have a pretty significant team that’s already been in place for a long, long time, long before (the novel coronavirus) ever hit,” said the Rev. Ross Chandler of First Baptist Church of Marble Falls.

He said the church has added substantially to those online programs and offerings in light of the virus.

Churches aren’t just utilizing the internet.

Long before COVID-19 cases hit Texas, First Baptist-Marble Falls established a Benevolence Team, which offers those in need bill assistance, a food pantry, and counseling services. Now, the church has expanded it as part of the program Excited to Serve.

The program includes a Calling Team, which reaches out and connects with congregants by phone; a Delivery Team, which primarily aids the senior population with deliveries of groceries and other items; and a Technology Team, which offers tech support to churchgoers and aids them in accessing streaming worship services.

Chandler said First Baptist plans to help other area churches produce their own video and streaming materials in the near future.

“We weren’t far behind the curve, but even as prepared as we kind of were, it has still been hard, it’s still been very difficult for us,” the pastor said.

First Baptist is also collaborating with the Highland Lakes Crisis Network during the state’s disaster declaration to provide relief to all residents.

“Some of these things, we’d be very hard-pressed to shut down,” Chandler said. “We’re going to obey every law that’s given to us, but as we obey all of it, we’re going to be driven a lot by compassion to our fellow beloved community.”

How churches adapt to the rapidly evolving situation varies.

The Catholic Diocese of Austin has suspended all public masses and liturgies throughout the diocese but instructed priests to offer daily and Sunday masses privately with many available on parish social media.

Parish offices are to keep normal business hours while adhering to social distancing guidelines, and parish churches will remain open during normal hours for private prayer and devotionals.

Living Word Lutheran Church of Marble Falls also is suspending services but is currently unable to live stream on Sundays. Its Easter service has been canceled. For the time being, the church will provide Wednesday and Sunday sermons in print to congregants.

Hill Country Fellowship in Burnet is also streaming services and encouraging churchgoers to tune in or start a Facebook watch party – provided they meet in groups of 10 people or fewer as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The church has a variety of ways to give, including its Church Center App, contribution drop-offs, and texting a dollar amount to 84321.

“This Sunday’s worship service will be amazing, even if we don’t get to gather together as we normally do,” said the Rev. Scott Frerking in a statement on the Hill Country Fellowship website. “Yet — we can still gather — we can tune in, sing, pray, praise, listen, and respond to the Holy Spirit.”

alex@thepicayune.com

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