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‘Thank God for this technology.’ Fort Worth-area churches open online doors for worship

March 22,2020

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Mitch Mitchell here.

On the first Sunday when Fort Worth and other Tarrant County churches were told by the government to keep people from gathering in the sanctuaries, prayers went up for city, county, state and federal employees who work daily to keep people safe from the spread of coronavirus.

God was asked by clergy at several churches to keep nurses, doctors, paramedics, police officers and firefighters safe. Pastors told their flocks that they understood that stopping in-person worship services was necessary to maintain social distancing.

In an expansion of the restrictions outlined in an initial emergency declaration, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley issued a new declaration at 6 p.m. Saturday, closing in-person services.

Fort Worth leaders also issued new restrictions at about the same time.

Support staff to transition churches to online services were allowed inside, but the recommendation that no more than a gathering of 10 people was to be followed, the declarations said.

At St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth, starting at 8:30 a.m. and during the 11 a.m. mass on Sunday, people got out of their vehicles to receive the Holy Eucharist, or Communion, at designated stations surrounding the church.

A letter from Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson explained the need.

“The safety measures asked of us must be taken seriously as a way of expressing love for our neighbor,” the letter said. “The calm with which we carry out our ministries, essential to the practice of our faith, will contribute to the common good of our society and assist even more in protecting the vulnerable during these times. Continue to pray daily for those who suffer from this pandemic in any way; pray also for our leaders, our military, our first responders, and for the poor.”

Outside the cathedral, orange cones created a pathway for those wishing to receive the Holy Eucharist.

“We started on Thursday inviting the faithful to come outside the church and get out of their vehicles to celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist,” Deacon Walt Stone said.

Church leadership decided to start early, Stone said, so when city leaders arrived at their decision, the church would be there waiting.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, staff had prepared for Sunday by making sure that permissions had been obtained for the hymns that would be played during online worship services, said Katie Sherrod, diocese spokeswoman.

Churches responded to the new restrictions by live-streaming worship services and other church activities as well as conducting the Holy Communion on a drive-through basis.

“The church buildings may be closed, but we are very clear the Church is still open,” Bishop Scott Mayer said in a news release from the Episcopal Diocese. “In-person worship is suspended, but worship is continuing, albeit in new ways. We are doing Church differently, but we are still coming together to worship our loving, liberating, life-giving God even as we love our neighbors by staying apart.”

It is difficult for entire choirs and a complement of musicians to be at the church and comply with the 10-person restriction, but churches are adhering to those rules by having only small groups of people sing or pray, or by using recorded music.

Some churches were veterans to live-streaming while others, particularly those serving mostly elderly congregations, are finding different ways to stay connected with their flocks.

Pastor William T. Glynn, who pastors Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, said his church had already been live-streaming services. Glynn said he had been speaking with other pastors about the potential for stopping in-person worship services.

“Thank God for this technology,” Glynn said. “I believe it will take a certain measure of quarantine to get a handle on this disease and the church has to lead by example. This is the responsible thing to do to keep our members and our community safe.”

Glynn said Sunday’s message will focus on telling people to trust in God, but encouraging people to keep safe and be diligent at the same time. The church, Glynn said, has to be there for people in times like this to provide help and hope.

Kyev Tatum, pastor of Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church, converted an already existing conference call that was set up for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, into a way to connect with church members for Sunday church services.

Tatum said he and other pastors had set up communications with Texas, Tarrant County and city of Fort Worth officials and were cautioned this past week that in-person church services could be interrupted.

The enhanced effort at communication led to inner-city churches being able to distribute needed goods to people in their communities. The American Black Cross, Guns and Hoses, The Potter’s House in Fort Worth and other local churches were able to disburse items such as baby diapers, water and other consumables at various locations on Saturday, Tatum said.

Those types of efforts will not be able to continue if weekly giving stops, something Tatum said he and pastors of other small congregations are concerned about.

“If people aren’t there, they don’t give,” Tatum said. “The small inner-city churches will be hit tremendously.”

Location Mentioned: Saint Patrick Cathedral