Rev. Randy Orwig packed bags with Easter treats to be delivered to children attending Elon Community Church. Delivering those Easter bags to the houses of the children is a part of a new reality for Orwig as the church makes adjustments during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are adapting by being, first of all, aware that we need to keep people connected, so we’re focusing everything on keeping people connected,” Orwig said.
Elon Community Church has streamed four services on Facebook Live since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“We’re doing it different each week because we’re learning new stuff each week,” Orwig said. “It’s been a process, and we’ve had some good help.”
Orwig, the senior pastor of Elon Community Church, said it was important to keep members connected in a time where people shouldn’t physically be together. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 121 on March 27, which requires all individuals in the state to stay at home.
This order deems “travel to and from a place of worship,” as an essential activity, but while places of worship can remain open and individuals are allowed to attend these places they’re still subject to the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and encouraged to “stream their services online.”
While Orwig said Easter Sunday is going to look different this year, he said they’re trying to maintain all the elements of a traditional Easter. Orwig will be delivering bags of Easter treats to the house of the children who attend the church. He still wants the children to have Easter egg hunts. During the Easter service worship, the trumpets will be blowing and the pianist will be playing music straight to people’s devices.
On top of Easter egg hunts and music, Orwig said the church will even have communion. He’s asking members to have bread and wine or grape juice that he will virtually consecrate.
“On Easter morning, we’ll have whatever this celebration will look like, but it’ll still just be a virtual celebration. But it’s okay. We’re gonna make do and everybody seems to be doing okay,” Orwig said.
While Elon Community Church is trying to bring some normalcy to Easter Sunday, Orwig said this celebration won’t compare to the one the church will have when everyone can physically come together.
“I have a feeling that it will pale in comparison to the day when we’re able to come back into the church,” Orwig said. “For the first time, we’ll probably have a celebration and roll the house out.”
Elon First Baptist Church Rev. James Wilkes, the senior pastor, sees his church doing something similar.
“We may observe Easter on Easter Sunday, but when we come back to church, we’re probably gonna call it a Resurrection Sunday,” Wilkes said. “We’re going to just go back to that day and observe Resurrection Sunday like it was our Easter because that’s when we can get back to the physical house of worship.”
For Easter Sunday, Elon First Baptist is doing a drive-in worship at 10 a.m. The church is inviting people to attend service from their parked cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled down.
On top of live streaming their services, Elon Community Church is finding other ways to keep its members connected. The church’s congregation is split into nine groups and a deacon is assigned to each of the groups. Those deacons have kept in contact with the members of their group.
Orwig said it was important for the church to stay in contact with younger families and children. Associate Pastor Rev. Sharon Wheeler has been calling to check in on families that belong to the church. The church also set up a private Facebook group where members are sharing pictures and videos of life at home.
“A lot of people have been very connected,” Orwig said. “We’ve been seeing and talking to a lot of different people.”
The comments under Elon Community Church’s Palm Sunday livestream is filled with good morning’s, thank you’s and praises for the music.
Zo Tanczo, who commented on the March 22 Facebook livestream, was thankful for Orwig’s sermon and Choir Director Stephen Futrell’s rendition of the hymn “Were You There?”
“After the service I tried to leave a message thanking Randy for the energizing, hopeful sermon, and was in tears after Stephen’s singing of the final hymn,” Tanczco commented. “Thank you again everyone who made the service possible.”
Keeping its congregation connected when members can’t gather together is an adjustment that Elon First Baptist Church is also stressing. Wilkes said keeping the church connected is not without its challenges, but he thinks they’re doing well.
“We all come to a place of shared experiences and shared religious beliefs and shared stories to come together to worship God, to hear good singing and preaching and to feed off the vibe of everyone else to know that we are not alone,” Wilkes said.
For Wilkes, it’s important to keep older members of Elon First Baptist connected.
“It has been a challenge because we are a mixed generation church and so we are not heavily one generation,” Wilkes said.
While the church already livestreams its services, it has had to make some adjustments. They now only have one service at 10 a.m. — a change from their services at 8:45 a.m. and 10:50 a.m. The church has also made it possible for people to conference call into the service if they don’t use Facebook.
To maintain a sense of normalcy, the church is also streaming its Wednesday night Bible study. For communion on Sunday, April 5, Elon First Baptist Church is doing a drive-thru communion.
“We do communion every first Sunday. And Saturday we’re doing drive-thru pick-up-your-communion and have prayer,” Wilkes said. “That’s part of community, because on Sunday they’ll take communion, and we will have communion right there in our home.”
Both Elon First Baptist Church and Elon Community Church, are seeing new people connect to their churches virtually.
For Elon First Baptist Church, Wilkes said on Sundays before the global pandemic, the church would normally see up to 325 people attend both services in total, but it’s hard to tell how many people are streaming in. Their March 29 service has over 1000 views on Facebook.
For Elon Community Church, they were seeing 150 to 180 people attend service, and with services being online, Orwig said he doesn’t know exactly how many people are tuning in live or watching the service afterward, but he knows his services are reaching the church’s members as well as those who aren’t a member of his church. Elon Community Church’s March 29 service has 548 views on Facebook.
Wilkes said once the pandemic subsides, local churches will see an “influx” of new members because people are starting to see how important a connection to the church is.
“Even people who were not a part of church are starting to miss the church because now they start to see church as essential, and it has always been essential,” Wilkes said. “It is unfortunate that we had to have this moment to make us realize how essential the church is.”