Local churches continue to roll with the pandemic changes

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Warren Dillaway, Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio
·2 min read
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Apr. 3—A second Easter season amidst a pandemic finds area churches operating in many different ways.

One year ago, church leaders were wondering what the consequences of government suggestions to shut down activities would be ... and now they know.

"The in-person numbers are down, but our online community has grown," said Rev. Michael Meranda of Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula. He said other churches have experienced similar social-media growth.

He said the church has been back to in-person operation since February with strict protocols including not singing during worship.

During the last year, there have been concentrations of COVID-19 cases at some churches in the county, while many didn't even re-start "in-person" worship until recently

Concerns about financial survival were also in the back of leaders' minds. Meranda said mature worshipers have continued to give at a level that maintained the church's ability to fund its ministries and pay for staff.

Churches have wrestled with how to respond to the needs of the community while keeping people safe.

"That's been the challenge to be the church in a different world," said Rev. Bill Terry, pastor of Austinburg First United Church of Christ.

Terry said churches have been using social media to get their message out.

"I know some churches that have down some presentations," he said.

Terry said his church is further down the high technology spectrum because of a more elderly congregation, but they have been using Facebook and a website to get their services to worshipers.

Finances have been less of a concern, Terry said. He said the church also took advantage of the Payroll Protection Plan.

"We've been very blessed that people have been especially vigilant about offerings and donations," Terry said.

"I've seen God really work through the pandemic," said Rev. Samuel Monte of First Presbyterian Church in Ashtabula. He said he came to the church in September and has offered in-person worship ever since.

"We came up with a plan and stuck to it," Monte said.

Nicholas Perkoski, parish leader at Corpus Christ Parish in Conneaut, said the church has been back to in-person worship since June, but numbers showing up on Saturday or Sunday are relatively low.

"It has been a slow return. We are starting to see a slow increase of people," Perkoski said. He said 80 people on Palm Sunday was a new recent high for attendance.

"I am not sure I am ready for the next phase," he said. Presently there are many pews closed off to worshipers.

Perkoski said there will be an "overflow" area for people to watch the mass on television on Easter. He said financial concerns at the start of the pandemic were alleviated as the year continued.

"We have been pretty stable," he said.