Social distancing and stay-at-home mandates have not stopped churches across Southwest Louisiana. Churches, Bible studies, staff and members have become experts at previously underutilized technologies like Facebook Live, Zoom and even traditional means of communication like television and simple phone calls in efforts to keep the church's mission alive.
All of this is just in time for holy week traditions culminating in the church's most triumphant day, Easter. While the celebration will certainly look different this year, local clergy have assured that the saints are surely marching on.
The Rev. Jeffrey Starkovich, spokesman for the Diocese of Lake Charles, said all churches in the Diocese are following orders from the Vatican to ensure that the safety of parishioners remains paramount.
While all public gatherings have been suspended, including daily mass and usual holy week gatherings, Starkovich said the heart of the faith continues on. "First, we believe that prayer, worship, sacrifice, all of these things involved in our relationship with God transcend space and time. The church hasn't stopped praying, celebrating mass and praying the liturgy."
Priests are still continuing to offer mass and lead prayer at their churches and its doors are still open for private prayer, he said. However, community gatherings have moved online to YouTube, Facebook and Zoom for the time being.
"Priests are very quickly becoming experts in technology," he said.
Some churches are making prayer booklets available at the back of the church for parishioners to pick up and follow along at home. This may vary from church to church, he said, so those interested in take-home literature should check with their individual parish.
Bishop Glen John Provost is broadcasting a televised mass on KPLC Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and the Diocese website, www.lcdiocese.org, is keeping an updated list of online groups and meetings throughout the week. "The church has not stopped praying for people and the church has not stopped serving," Starkovich said.
"The beautiful part is to see how grace is still at work in our lives as God is with us in these times."
Hope Snider, co-pastor of Christian World in Lake Charles, said she is finding much of God's grace in these times through increased time in communication with church members. "I love people and I miss seeing the people. Now when I call, I can have a longer conversation. I have the time and I'm not being rushed. It's been special in this time."
Snider said the church plans to help facilitate special experiences for families during this time of social distancing especially with its upcoming Easter service. Traditionally the church hosts a "Palm Funday" on Palm Sunday, but the after- church festival has been postponed to the summer.
"Everything has been changed but nothing has been cancelled," she explained of the fun day and other previously scheduled church events.
Instead, like most churches, Christian World is leveraging social media and is seeing particular traction on its Instagram "Insta-stories." "They're just short stories that really catch your attention and give a quick motivational pep talk to keep you through their day."
Snider said the church can be found on nearly all social media platforms and the website, christianworld.cc is "integral" right now so that users can submit prayer requests. "People use different platforms, so we want to make sure we're available on all of those," she said.
Easter Sunday will have a special emphasis on family, she said, as evidenced through the online, at-home communion service they will facilitate.
"That might be the smallest church you pastor, your family," she said. Using at home communion elements, the church is encouraging all families to participate in the symbolic tradition. "That's what it's about. That's a form of being connected not only with Jesus but with each other during this."
The church's drive-through food pantry is also still operating the first and third Saturday each month and all volunteers are taking safety precautions by wearing masks and gloves. For more information on Christian World's current service offerings call 475-0157.
Randy Monroe, Trinity Baptist Church associate pastor of worship, said the church is working to keep a growth mindset, despite current necessary changes. "Change is inevitable but growth is an option," he said.
When stay-at-home orders were first mandated, staff asked themselves, "What could we do with what we have and maximize it as best as we could?" This resulted in a daily social media push to church members called "The Daily Word" featuring Pastor Steve James.
Monroe said that initiative quickly grew. "The nature of social media, it's really gone way beyond that," now featuring additional staff and reaching more than Trinity church members.
Monroe said the church has been especially mindful of the "home aspect" of the online Sunday service. Interactive elements for children, song lyrics on the screen and showcasing a variety of worship styles are all designed to keep watchers tuned in, he said.
Each week the large church showcases various aspects of its worship which includes contemporary and traditional service. "We have almost two distinctive worship types but more alike than they are different."
Monroe said the music sets vary from acoustic, piano and artist spotlight but they each have one purpose for the home setting. "We want people to be able to sing alone. Not just them spectating, but as best as we can to get them to participating."
Easter service likewise will be designed to engage home viewers with special video elements and upbeat, positive worship. "That's the beauty and power of music. We need it right now especially because there are some families that are really struggling right now."
The church is also taking advantage of multiple avenues to share its Sunday message including the website, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and KPLC Sunday's at 10 a.m. "It's not our normal. So, as we adjust to the new normal it's made us a bit more aware of the avenues that we have to get the gospel shared and brought to other people."
To learn more about Trinity's service offerings visit, https://tbclc.org/