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With their congregations sequestered, pastors still deliver their messages

  • Rev. Christian Huebner, of Weathersfield, and his family cut cedar boughs to be used in place of palms for palm Sunday outside the Brownsville, Vt., Community Church Saturday, April 4, 2020. “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people just broke off branches of whatever trees were around, and that just happened to be palm trees,” said Huebner who has been unable to find a source of palms for the service this year. “Rather than have nothing in our hands, we’ll cut what we can with what’s in our back yard.” From left are Noah, 15, Evie, 4, Kristen, Karis, 13, Christian, and Elisha Huebner, 5.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Rev. Christian Huebner, of Weathersfield, left, runs through a tune with his son Noah, 15, to prepare for Palm Sunday at the Brownsville Community Church Saturday, April 4, 2020. Huebner will stream the service online for members of the church community who cannot attend due to while the church is closed due to the pandemic. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Rev. Christian Huebner, of Weathersfield, dispenses hand sanitizer for his son Noah, 15, left, after turning out the lights on the way at the Brownsville, Vt., Community Church Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/6/2020 8:45:01 PM
Modified: 4/7/2020 12:18:07 PM

BROWNSVILLE — Due to the absence of palms, the Rev. Christian Huebner, pastor at Brownsville Community Church, asked his congregants to clip boughs from conifer trees to celebrate Palm Sunday, one of the holy days leading up to Easter.

“What people in Jerusalem did was they cut some branches from whatever was there and it was palms,” Huebner said.

It was one of many adjustments that Huebner and members of the clergy throughout the Upper Valley have made during the COVID-19 pandemic, where their gathering spaces are officially closed but their mission to serve their congregants remains strong.

Worship services are now streamed through Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube. Support groups, Bible study and children’s liturgy lessons have all gone virtual in recent weeks to adhere with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home mandates implemented by the Twin States.

“The first week was different for everybody. I think for people that were connecting to a livestream for the first time it was really different for them because there were no people they could see smiling or laughing, no people who they could hug. But there was still a sense of community and caring for each other,” Huebner said last week. “For me as a pastor, it felt a little strange preaching to an empty church even though I knew people were listening. It was especially brutal when I told a dumb joke and no one was there to give me sympathy laugh.”

The Rev. Kyle Seibert, pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Hanover, went on a jaunt around the area with another parishioner waving palms. They made stops at the Ledyard Bridge and outside Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to cheer on health care workers. The journey was filmed and shared with others online.

“Some churches try to get a donkey on Palm Sunday. We couldn’t get a donkey, but we have a parishioner who has an alpaca,” Seibert said. “There are fun ways we’re kind of engaging folks that way.”

Like Huebner, Seibert also encouraged congregants to come up with their own palms. The church sent out an email with a printable palm craft. Gatherings have gone online and Seibert films church services in advance, then posts them on Facebook Live during normal worship times. With the video playing, he interacts with parishioners in the comments.

“Doing it this way allows 15 different people to participate in the leadership of worship even though we’re not in the same place at the same time to record,” he said. “What they normally might say in church they are typing and checking in with one another.”

With Easter’s Holy Week beginning, they’ve had to make adjustments as well. On Maundy Thursday, they traditionally wash feet and anoint them with oil. This year, they’re going to write thank you cards to essential workers in the Upper Valley. Families will be recreating Bible scenes and filming them to share with other parishioners.

“This has invited people to engage their creativity in new ways,” Seibert said. He’s also divided up the congregation into 10 pods, with seven or eight family units in each one and appointing a leader to check in each week.

Music has also been an essential part of services. Last week, two of Huebner’s children joined him in playing live music. Congregants can contact the church ahead of time to be sent information on the readings and songs in the service. In addition to Sunday services, Huebner has added a Wednesday night service for another point of contact for people during the week. People from as far as California, Iowa and Montana have tuned in.

“People are asking us to continue livestreaming after the pandemic is over because they’ve loved connecting with us even though they don’t live here,” Huebner said. “I think it’s been a real blessing in disguise. … You can see the silver lining and see where God is working and moving.”

In addition to Easter, the Jewish holiday of Passover starts this week. Shabbat services started at the Upper Valley Jewish Community last week through livestreaming, said Debbe Callahan, president of the Upper Valley Jewish Community.

“This is our introduction to it. We don’t usually include technology on Shabbat, but we felt during the pandemic, we need to keep our community together now more than ever,” Callahan said.

One challenge will be the second night seder, which is traditionally a community gathering.

“Unfortunately we can’t share food,” Callahan said.

While Chris Goepner, lead pastor at Riverbank Church in White River Junction, said the religious organization has been livestreaming services since January 2019, their efforts have ramped up since the coronavirus pandemic began and they’ve been hosting a Facebook Live event every day. Teachings have held to the theme of staying positive in tough times and that God has a plan to see people through.

“I think people need people. As much as we love technology, people still need human contact and I think that’s our biggest challenge,” Goepner said. “We hear about people who are hanging out with us who have never been in the four walls of our building, but they’ll join us online.”

They’ve converted their auditorium in White River Junction into a recording studio. Four musicians play and two production people film, adhering to social distancing. On Good Friday when they do communion, Goepner will invite people to make their crackers and juice ready in their own homes for the sacrament.

In addition to providing spiritual guidance, church leaders are also reaching out more to the community to help. In Brownsville, they’re working making sure families struggling with food insecurity have enough to eat.

“Even though we’re not meeting on Sunday mornings if anything the work of the church has intensified,” Huebner said. “If anything this is a beautiful time for the church to reach into the community and be the hands and feet for Jesus in the way that we’re called to be.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

Correction

The Rev. Kyle Seibert is pastor of Our Savior  Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Hanover. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the church.

 




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