Wallowa County’s communities of faith and their ministers, from Christians to Buddhists, are taking active roles to overcome the forced isolation of social distancing.
On Friday, March 27, the Wallowa County Ministerial Association met via the virtual conferencing app Zoom to determine how they can best serve the community as a group.
“We want to come together as a unified church – the Body of Christ – churches of different denominations,” said Micah Agnew, pastor of the Abundant Life Assembly of God Church in Enterprise. The association is mobilizing big time.
“Every pastor I’ve talked to is working hard to do the best job to meet people’s spiritual and physical needs, ” he said.
With churches forced to temporarily stop meeting for regular worship services and other activities, clergy have had to get creative.
Agnew finds a certain excitement in it, offering new opportunities to minister.
Some of those opportunities involve pastors continuing to lead their congregations using new technology. “We’re employing things we’ve never done before to combat isolation this crisis necessitates,” Agnew said.
He said his church is doing its regular Sunday worship service via Zoom, as well as Bible studies. Other gatherings also are being considered.
Pastor David Pendleton, of Summit Church in Enterprise, regularly puts together a “home church” for viewing by members and those who attend.
Pastor David Bruce, of Enterprise Christian Church, also does his church’s worship service online, as well as on the church’s Facebook and web pages. They do morning devotions and an evening sing led by him and his wife.
“It’s modified for being online … I’m the only one who’s allowed in the building so it’s a one-man show,” Bruce said. “It’s learning to minister in a different world. It’s about how do you keep a congregation together in the midst of a pandemic.”
Agnew urged anyone interested in learning what their place of worship is doing now should try to call them or contact them online.
But virtual church isn’t the only answer. As Both Agnew and Bruce send regular weekly mailings for those who are not online. They also stay in touch with parishioners by phone.
Bruce said he’s developing a possible “drive-through church” service for Palm Sunday – April 5 – and Easter, the week after. His plan is to have people come in their cars to the church parking lot and watch the service online on their phones or tablets.
The spiritual side is only part of what the ministerial association is doing. They’re reaching out to help meet the physical needs of people in the county.
During Friday’s conference, the pastors began work setting up a 501©(3) organization through which the association can provide vouchers for food, fuel and lodging for those in need. A telephone hotline also is planned to request help or inform of a known need. “We’re on call for any needs that might surface,” Pendleton said.
Agnew said the association is looking at new ways to make use of volunteers. He said there already are people making freezer meals and those willing to deliver them.
He said they’re also talking with Building Healthy Families and Community Connection, as well as state agencies, to ensure there’s no doubling-up of assistance.
Father Thomas Puduppulliparamban, parish priest at St. Katherine’s Catholic Church in Enterprise, said that although no Mass or other services are being conducted, parishioners may pray privately or otherwise spend time in the church. Observance of the Lord’s Supper and Holy Week activities during the next 2 weeks are suspended.
Father Thomas said the church bulletin will arrive by email and he maintains contact with parishioners by email and telephone.
Confessions can be conducted by appointment in a unique manner whereby the priest will meet with a parishioner in the church parking lot and maintain a 6-foot distance.
“It’s kind of a drive-through confession,” he said.
Self-identified Christians aren’t the only ones going online and mobilizing to meet needs during the pandemic. Wallowa County’s Baha’i community is preparing to do a Sunday program via a Zoom meeting with devotional readings, initially testing this with the local community, and then adding Friends of the Baha’i Faith and others who may be interested, Judy Allen said. Such ministry may be expanded via radio or Facebook to express the “Baha’i belief in the oneness of humanity, oneness of God and oneness of religion,“ she said also is getting involved with groups that serve the needy. As a Rotarian, a Baha’i and one in the “vulnerable” age group, Allen said she is supporting homebound older and ill people by calling them.
Some Baha’is are making personal protective masks both for health care workers and the general public.
At the Wallowa Buddhist Temple near Joseph, Rev. Meido Tuttle and Rev. Clairissa Beattie issued a statement saying that although the temple is closed, their hearts are not. They urged area Buddhists to continue meditating from home – as they are – and to “find ways to go deeper.”
They invite their congregation to meditate every Sunday, but from home. They stay in touch with members by email, phone and letter. On Saturday evenings, members receive an email from the monks with attachments to download. After Sunday meditation, they may listen to a weekly recorded Dharma talk offered by Beattie.
The monks are exploring ways to make real-time video connections over the internet. Both priests continue to offer pastoral counseling and spiritual guidance on a regular basis by phone and email.
As Agnew said, the local community of faith is reaching out to all.
“If you’re feeling isolated, it is of paramount importance that you let us know,” he said. “There’s someone to reach out. We’re here.”