‘Uncharted territory’: Wiscasset area churches adjust for COVID-19

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 8:30am

    Rev. Josh Fitterling won’t be all alone in First Congregational Church of Wiscasset when Sunday service gets recorded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Music minister Linda Adams and a partial choir will join him, and Jim Nelon will record it all. The church has suspended its in-person March 22 and 29 services.

    Other Wiscasset-area churches are also adjusting for the viral outbreak that has state and federal officials calling on people to not gather in groups bigger than 10.

    “In a lot of ways, this is uncharted territory for me and us (at First Congo). I have done short (recorded) reflections, like our Advent series this past December, but never a full service,” Fitterling said in email replies Wednesday. “I am thankful to the members of our church who have the skills to help make it possible!” Having them there will “definitely make it easier so there is someone right there to connect with ... Ministry is so much about the connections we make with people. We are just trying to figure out some new ways of doing that in this time.”

    The church did not stop the service altogether until the coronavirus crisis has passed because, in days that “can feel uncertain,” prayer can give hope, he said.  

    Fitterling said a recorded service cannot replace the togetherness of in-person worship. “For many, church is a core part of their community and connection. Not having that can be emotionally challenging. That is why we are doing what we can to still nurture and maintain connections, even when we are apart.”

    Many members’ vulnerability to the illness was absolutely a factor in suspending the in-person service, Fitterling said. “We want to do what feels right for the physical, emotional and spiritual care for our congregation and for the wider community.”

    Showing care for everyone is also the point of Wiscasset Church of the Nazarene suspending its Sunday service, senior pastor Wally Staples said. When Wiscasset Newspaper called Wednesday, he and wife of nearly 30 years Sharon Staples were working to mail and email “words of hope” to members, he said. And a video, but not a full sermon, will go on the church’s Facebook page, he said.

    Asked about the changes due to the pandemic, he said, “We need to be flexible in this day and age, because we don’t know from one day to the next what’s going to happen.” Worry doesn’t help anything, he added.

    St. Philip's Episcopal Church announced on Facebook it was suspending its worship services until Palm Sunday, April 5 and its Bargain Basement is closed until further notice. “We decided that it was important to keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible,” longtime member Gretchen Burleigh-Johnson said in an email response Thursday. “Since we agreed to suspension of services, of course, Gov. Mills requested that very decision for all, so our instincts have been borne out.”

    St. Philip’s is still doing its Help Yourself Shelf food pantry Thursdays, 4:30-5:30. Burleigh-Johnson said the plan was to “minimize physical contact” by having each attendee come to the hall door and check in, then take away a box of food the volunteers put outside for them. “If people cannot make the open time, they can call the church at 882-7184, leaving their name, number, number of people in the household, and (HYS) will call back.”

    She said HYS is still running during the outbreak because people need nutrition to help stave off illness, but might have “even less access to money” for food now. She gave special thanks to Sarah's Cafe for donating soups, breads and other items; and thanks to Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets for continuing their help.

    “And, of course, thanks to those volunteers willing and able to help make this happen.”
    Bible Baptist Church in Wiscasset has canceled its in-person Wednesday and Sunday services until further notice. Pastor Rob Green said in a phone interview Thursday, the services are now going on the church’s Facebook page. Wednesday’s was the first. It was different from having everyone there, but it worked fine, Green said.
    Woolwich-Wiscasset Baptist Church in Woolwich announced on Facebook the temporary suspension of activities at its church buildings. Plans called for live-streaming the service at 10:45 a.m. each Sunday. 
    Edgecomb Community Church’s Facebook page announced the church will not meet Sundays for a while out of precaution over COVID-19, but will stay in touch via email, mail and phone. A post added, “Please continue to join us at 8:00 a.m., wherever you are, to pray for all medical caregivers and the end of the spread of the coronavirus.”