Spokane congregations find new ways to connect despite unreliable meeting conditions through continued Covid-19 fears
By Meghan Henry
Faith leaders have felt the pressure of the pandemic on every side. They have existed between the rock of pandemic guidelines and the hard place of leading their congregations through constant change.
Despite all of this, according to church leaders, membership seems to have remained strong.
According to pastors like Rev. Heather Tadlock from Bethany Presbyterian Church, it seems that many people turn to church when faced with widespread uncertainty. Even when services are solely online.
“Covid was challenging, but we maintained our worship attendance via online worship,” Tadlock said. “We even got some worshipers joining us who had never joined us before.”
Turning to Church During Crisis
To some, this may not come as a surprise. The goals of a church are to connect people to each other and strengthen their shared beliefs. While normalcy was falling apart, many people found that they had unanswered questions about life, death and faith.
“For some people, there has been what I would call a little bit of…people noticing some of their spiritual hunger,” Tadlock said.
And as churches like Bethany Presbyterian and others in the Spokane area saw a need, they rose to meet it. Even as the Delta variant causes churches like Bethany to return to all-online services, they continue that work.
Another church in Spokane, Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ led by Rev. Andy CastroLang, saw the pandemic as an opportunity to get creative.
In reality, they did not have a choice.
Like a deep-rooted vine growing in the most impossible conditions, long-held ideals of community, love and grace have grown deeper and spread even wider among clergies in Spokane.
For these churches, this also means following Covid-19 guidelines, including wearing masks or staying home. And when it is possible, getting vaccinated.
“I just continue to say to everyone in our church: ‘We are taking care of our most vulnerable,’” CastroLang said. “This is our God-given mandate to be concerned for the most vulnerable in our midst. Yeah, ‘It infringes on your personal right’. Suck it up buttercup!”
For whatever church members they may have lost to disagreements over following Covid-19 guidelines, these churches are stronger for the people who still come to be a part of their communities which put health and support of their community above all, clergy agreed.
“Everyone who has come [to church] these last few weeks has been almost 100% vaccinated,” Tadlock said. “For our congregation, that is who we are. And for us it goes back to love of neighbor. We listen to science, but we also take care of one another and try to love our neighbor by getting vaccinated.”
Hybrid is the Future
For those who choose not to be vaccinated, are unable to receive the vaccine, or who do not feel safe coming to public gatherings like a church service, churches like Westminster UCC and Bethany Presbyterian will continue to provide online services.
Tadlock feels that resources like online sermons allow church members to connect in ways they would not have been able to before.
“Last week we had at least one household who were on vacation and chose to worship with us. And they could do that because of our online presence,” Tadlock said. “That’s meaningful. That’s worthwhile.”
As Facebook and Zoom sermons become the norm of churches across the nation, Spokane churches like Bethany and Westminster UCC continue to work to create avenues of connection for their members.
Whether it be a weekly happy hour, a phone tree between clergy members to check on one another during times of loneliness, or providing a chance for families at home to share their prayer requests, these churches will be a constant center for creativity, flexibility and honest strength for their members.
And even as rules and regulations shift again and again, pastors like CastroLang and Tadlock will remain leaders who prioritize safety over convenience.
Meghan Henry is a senior at Washington State University where she is an English major. She is originally from Austin, Texas.