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Churches offer drive-up, online services for Easter

With the coronavirus pandemic shaking up how churches keep their faith and share it, Res Spears said his Liberty Spring Christian Church services have become more and more distant.

“Each week, it’s been stepped a little bit further and further apart,” Spears, the interim pastor, said. “And that’s kind of stressful as a pastor, because this is a community. The church is truly a community of believers.”

His church has gone from meeting in person, to having some of its members at the church to do services and stream them, to making it an entirely virtual operation.

But for him, it’s not the same as being together in person.

He noted that, throughout scripture, Paul said to greet each other with a holy kiss, and while at church people would normally shake hands, that cannot be done for now, either.

“How does community feel when we’re all doing it over Facebook?” Spears said. “So that’s been real complicated and real painful, frankly.”

Spears said he has been in communication with other pastors who are doing some form of online streaming or drive-in church. About three weeks ago, he bought one of the last FM transmitters available that he will use for this Sunday’s Easter service.

“The point of doing that was that there’s something about being a community where we really need to see each other, even if through the windshields,” Spears said, before adding: “There’s a way that we can feel like a community again, especially on Easter.”

Spears said Liberty Spring’s Easter service would incorporate a little fun in it, and that he would find a way to make fun of himself in some way as an icebreaker.

“I had a plan from way back that I was going to preach about the story of scripture,” Spears said. “We take the crucifixion and the resurrection and we pull those events out of scripture and we preach that and … there’s a tendency when we hear that to conclude that this was all done for me. That Jesus sacrificed and bled and died, and that it was all so He could save me. It becomes a very me-centered message. And surely, we are saved through His death and resurrection if we believe in Him, but there’s a much bigger thing going on.”

That big thing: Jesus returning to heaven victorious and making all things new — “putting it all to where it was supposed to be, and making us who we were supposed to be.”

Spears said the focus should be that there is one big story being told.

And for now, he, like a few other churches, will be sharing his Easter message during a drive-in service Sunday. Besides Liberty Spring Christian Church, Greater Faith Worship Center, Oak Grove Baptist Church and Open Door Church of Suffolk, will be among those holding drive-in or drive-through service Sunday.

Many other Suffolk churches have been livestreaming services, Bible studies and morning and evening prayers for the past few weeks, and will also be streaming services on Easter Sunday.

Spears said churches being able to offer ministries online is dependent on two things — the savviness of the pastor and the savviness of the congregation.

Spears said he has adapted to using Zoom and other online tools, and he has been able to teach that to members of his congregation.

“We have a unique opportunity in Christian history to show the light of Christ in a way and in a time,” Spears said, “in which people are sensitive to the message more than ever before because of what is happening here.”

Spears said there is a theological lesson coming out of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing.

“We are all the same,” Spears said. “We all stand before God without Him making any distinction between us.”

It’s a time that is drawing people closer together spiritually and emotionally, if not physically.

“People are wanting to actually connect again,” Spears said. “Maybe we’ll come out of this with a renewed sense of our shared humanity and a renewed need for connection. And that’s a good thing if it does. There can’t be anything bad about that.”

Spears said he expects that church will have a different look once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided. Though many churches are streaming services online, he hopes people will return to church, and he believes his church will be ready to return to worshipping together, physically, again.

“We hope that that doesn’t become comfortable,” Spears said. “’OK that’s fine, I’ll just pick which stream I’m going to watch from week to week.’ There’s no community in that. And I hope we don’t have to try to maintain this sense of faux community or virtual community that we’re fostering right now. I hope that doesn’t have to become anything like a permanent or a long-term thing.”

However, he does hope this time gives people a sense that church is more than just a physical place to go, but rather that it is the work of Christ in the community.

“I’m hoping that having had it taken away, that we’ve had the chance to re-evaluate our hearts and re-evaluate our calling,” Spears said.