Places Of Faith Innovate Ways To Keep Members Connected

Apr 3, 2020

On a chilly but sunny day, about 60 cars are parked at the American Dream Drive-In Theatre in Powell. Where the screen usually is are a pickup trucks with one person on the back of each. This is how the Trinity Lutheran Church in Cody has been worshipping for the past two Sundays.

Pastor Kay Wittman said she was trying to figure out a way to keep the community connected and together while also social distancing.

"What I realized is we really want to be together, so I was talking to some people the next day on the phone, and I said, 'Oh, gosh, I think we should all just get in the parking lot. We could just honk at each other'," she said.

Gov. Mark Gordon has banned gatherings of more than 10 people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That's created a challenge for places of faith in our state. But some churches in Wyoming are finding creative solutions to keep everyone feeling like they are together.

"There's something that is so bonding about it because you're like, oh, there you are. You're healthy. I see you," Wittman said. "You came out here this morning just like I did. We both are longing to be together. It does make you closer."

Doug Morton, a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church, agreed.

"60 different cars all parked together, honking together for worship, it really did give you a sense of unity. And we're all together in this and it's all gonna be okay," he said.

During this pandemic, Morton said he's turning more and more to his faith to help him get through the crisis and how it's affecting his world.

"If you can't meet as your faith group, either, that's a real hole. So I think it's great that [Wittman's] been doing this and getting us all together anyway," he said.

This isn't the only church finding creative solutions to be able to congregate. Churches in Indiana, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are all turning to drive-in theatres in an effort for in person community and support.

But there are not enough drive-ins for all of Wyoming's houses of worship to use. Other congregations are relying on the internet. Cody Christ Episcopal Church Rector Mary Caucutt said it's working even though lots of members aren't particularly tech savvy.

"I would say that folks at Christ Church are actually feeling more connected as a community today than they felt the day before we went into isolation, because before we did isolation, we relied on people being face to face, and it takes an effort to be face to face," said Caucutt.

Caucutt said during this time of crisis people do want to be together. The church has been doing many things to keep members active and connected, including a calling tree where a list of members call to check in on other members. They also have live streamed worship and zoom meet ups.

"They see each other's faces and they have an opportunity before we start whatever we're doing to check in with one another, sort of in a face-to-face way, and I just see this sense of relief in being able to see faces," she said.

Wally Johnson is one of those faces. He's the senior warden at the church. For him, nothing really can take the place of being physically in the company of people.

"It's not simple for an old guy like me. So can I find that same comfort on a computer? On zoom, or on Facebook? I can't tell you yet," Johnson said.

It's hard for him to worship over the internet when he's not really comfortable with technology. But Johnson doesn't see any other choice right now and he said he appreciates the entire community checking in on him and keeping the community connected.

This is definitely a challenge all places of worship are experiencing, especially with Easter coming up quickly in which many of the traditions are interactive. Caucutt said they involve washing each other's feet and the sharing of a palm. "They are not best sat and watched in a live stream and our Thursday service we traditionally roast a whole lamb."

But Caucutt has come up with a solution. A couple of church members will roast a lamb and then there will be a drive-through where people can pick up the roasted lamb. Caucutt said communities of faith are more important now than ever.

"They're bringing people together. They're helping people reframe and make meaning of this and they're really bringing good news into people's lives."

Even if it's not perfect for everybody, it creates a sense of normalcy and gives the crisis meaning.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.