St. Louis area churches meet coronavirus challenges

Leap of faith

Area churches meet the challenges presented by coronavirus by finding creative ways to congregate 

By Brett Auten
Staff writer

The COVID-19 outbreak has challenged the spirit but, it hasn’t broken it.

Area churches have gotten creative during this era of self-quarantining and social distancing as they continue to spread their message the safest way they know how.

On May 10, Wentzville Christian Church celebrated Mother’s Day with one of the area’s only in-house services. Wentzville Christian decided to close campus around the same time as everyone else and having done live stream services since the fall, the transition was seamless. But when Missouri Governor Mike Parson opened up the state on May 4, Wentzville Christian decided to follow suit

“There could have been a few more, but we looked around the web and couldn’t find any other that opened up on Mother’s Day,” Wentzville Christian Church Discipleship Minister Kurt Charlton said. “I was really surprised.”

Wentzville Christian put in a reservation system that would guarantee a spot in the pews for a family. Every other pew was blocked off and families were spaced out by at least four seats. The changes allowed for 20-percent of its usual morning attendance. There was one dedicated entrance and one dedicated exit to limit any lobby gatherings.

“The plan was great and the people loved it,” Charlton said. “Everyone did a great job with it. They honored and respected the changes. We wanted to give them the option (to come) and even the people who decided not to come, they were glad we opened up.”

At Faith Baptist Church in O’Fallon, a brainstorming session led to two months’ worth of a unique concept.

Pastor Justin Arender and his congregation held their eighth Parking Lot Service on Sunday.

“And it might be our last,” Arender said. “We don’t know yet, We want to move back in but it will be a slow process.”

Arender would preach from pulpit placed outside the front of the church while the congregation took advantage of the spacious parking lot.

“It got us out of our routine or tradition,” Arender said. “You saw the morale and the spirit lift. They were longing for a gathering and having the want to come back to church is a good thing.”

Faith Baptist’s services also landed on the ears of those who live in close proximity.

“In the houses nearby we have had people out in the yard clapping,” Arender said. “We even had some walk-up with lawn chairs and sit in. It was pretty neat.”

When it comes to online worship, O’Fallon’s SunRise United Methodist Church is a harmonious production.

SunRise Methodist has been doing online worship for three years. They made the transition on March 21 to online-only worship and will continue to do so through the month of May.

All aspects of the service are pre-recorded and then professionally editing and ready to upload and stream at the normal service time and is also available following in on-demand on multiple platforms. Among the members of its highly-creative staff are online “hosts” who welcome and greet guests and are there to take any requests.

“We were blessed in that we did not need to learn all of this in three days,” Pastor Jim Blue said.

Blue expects it will be at least another week before an attempt to house service.

“For us, it makes sense to err on the side of caution for the safety and well-being,” he said. “We want to do something gradual and learn from each week.

SunRise’s online worship services have connected it with people across the United States and more.

“The life of the church has expanded exponentially,” Blue said. “It is something that we will continue to do well into the future.”

CUTLINES:Submitted photos

Cover-Chruch1 Pastor Justin Arender stands in front of his Parking Lot Church Service at Faith Baptist Church in St. Charles.

Cover-Church2 Members of the SunRise United Methodist Church gather in the church’s parking lot to sing songs and practice social distancing.

Cover-Church3 A screengrab from an online worship service at O’Fallon’s SunRise United Methodist Church.

Cover-Church4 Wentzville Christian Church held its second in house service of the month on Sunday, May 17.