Marshfield area churches adjust to changing environment
By Dannielle Konz
MARSHFIELD – While businesses and individuals grapple with trying to safely handle reopening during COVID-19, churches are in a unique position to try and navigate whether or not to reopen to the public. Many feel as though religious places of worship should be considered essential, but they are not listed as such according to the Badger Bounce Back plan, put in place to help Wisconsin determine how and when to reopen safely. That being said, some churches are making the decision to open their doors, but with new restrictions put in place to keep their congregations safe.
One church – Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Marshfield – has only recently begun to gather again for their normally scheduled masses and have social distancing measures put in place to help keep churchgoers safe while they worship.
Keith Kitzhaber, Sacred Heart and Corpus Christi priest, said of the safeguards being put in place, “Some of the pews are roped off to provide proper distancing. Attendance is by reservation. However, some show up and we just write their names down (in case) we need to do contact tracing. We have never reached 25 percent of the maximum seating capacity, which is our limit right now. We usually have 60-80 on Sunday mornings with another 100 watching live on Facebook.”
Moving to offering online services was not difficult for Sacred Heart, as they have always offered virtual worship options for attendees.
While Sacred Heart has followed protocols for churches and is opening with precautions, Kitzhaber wishes that the response to help the church had been quicker.
“There is a special pandemic appeal being run to help recover from the losses of having the parish closed for 10 weeks,” he said. “The pandemic appeal took several months to start. It’s a program that covers the whole Diocese. It would have been better to begin immediately at the parish level.”
Despite this, Sacred Heart is doing its best to pick up and continue on in the face of the continuing pandemic, providing a worship space for those who wish to attend mass in person.
Other churches in the area are remaining closed for the foreseeable future, such as First Presbyterian Church in Marshfield. The building has been closed since March 15, but worship services have been moved online with pre-recorded music from congregation members.
For members without internet access, printed versions of the services, including the sermons, have been made available in order to reach as much of the congregation as possible.
While the church is still not meeting in person yet, Reverend Dr. Laurie Brubaker Davis said that the congregation has been understanding of the changes that have taken place, especially in how they have responded with outreach projects:
“We raised $6,000 and distributed food on May 16 (a substantial amount of food, along with Spanish books for children, and hygiene supplies) to 120 families in our community in need –drive up, deposited in the trunk of their car, no questions asked. [It was called] “Canasta BasicaGratuita” (which means “free, basic, basket). We are continuing to work with our contact in that community to support his ministry to the folks in Abbotsford where there has been an outbreak of COVID.”
In addition to outreach projects, the congregation is working within the congregation to encourage tolerance and learning with a Zoom class on systemic racism.
While First Presbyterian Church has moved online and is working hard to include as many people in worship and out, they do wish they had gotten online sooner. They tried live streaming the services but had technical difficulties and missed a few weeks of worship before they were able to get their YouTube channel up and running, where they now upload their pre-recorded services.
Both churches plan to continue online worship and are looking forward with optimism and patience.
Kitzhaber said, “I expect there will be a continued restriction until a vaccine is developed, or we reach herd immunity. I expect this to continue the rest of this year and well into next year, barring a readily available vaccine.”
While this new form of religious worship is seeming to be the new normal and has no near end, there are many different options opening up for ways to connect with religious institutions and their communities of faith.
In the words of Reverend Brubaker Davis, “The buildings may be closed, but the church is not.”