One of the hallmarks of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hosting of events online so people can participate and interact with others from the safety of their homes, and religious services were not exempt. With many places of worship having returned to hosting in-person services, some have taken up what they learned by hosting virtual services and sermons and continuing these practices for some of their members.
Several churches in Paducah have decided to improve their services by offering a virtual option to connect to their in-person services. While some worshipers continue to pray and attend in-person services, others are housebound and enjoy having the option to join in-person services on a live stream or watch a video of the service later. .
Reverend Charles Uhlik, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Paducah, said some members of his church, including older members and people with young families or health issues, took advantage of the Facebook livestreams. from the church. Uhlik and other ministers preach to the crowd in person; simultaneously, this sermon is streamed online.
After having virtual services throughout 2020, he said he was happy to return to hosting in-person services throughout 2021. While Uhlik said all members he had spoke found in-person services the best way to worship, some housebound church members find virtual services the “better alternative.”
“I would say our homebound people deeply appreciate having the online experience, having some form of online connection to their church and their worship experience,” Uhlik said.
Nathan Joyce, senior preaching pastor at Heartland Church, said his church began broadcasting live services in 2019 for congregation members and families who were out of town on business or on vacation but wanted to always participate. Virtual attendance “skyrocketed” at the start of the pandemic when virtual services were still new to many families. Joyce said many members have returned to in-person services at Heartland Church, but some are still taking advantage of virtual services.
“Since COVID, we’ve seen viewership go up, go up a little bit,” Joyce said. “The numbers were astronomical at the start of March 2020, but they’ve been going down since…they’ve come down, but still higher than they were pre-COVID.”
Joyce said he encourages those who can attend services in person to stay connected with the congregation and participate in services. He wants to keep the virtual option available for those who are sick, out of town or unable to attend.
Uhlik also prefers having people in the audience to preach to, unlike when he preached from empty pews in 2020 and only live. Grace Episcopal has also taken steps to ensure the safety of those attending in-person services, such as tying down all other pews for social distancing and encouraging people to wear face masks.
Part of the tradition of the Episcopal Church is taking communion. Uhlik said virtual attendees are allowed to use items they have at home, like wine and crackers. For those taking communion in person, the church is providing single-use plastic cups to help stop the spread of viruses.
Joyce and Uhlik noticed that live streams and videos from their churches were finding audiences outside of Paducah and outside of Kentucky. Joyce said the Heartland Church videos even attracted people who had never attended an in-person service there to join the congregation.
Grace Episcopal Church also live-streamed several funerals, at the request of families, for those unable to attend.
Grace Episcopal Church and Heartland Church have invested in video systems to improve the quality of their videos and live streams. Both churches plan to maintain a virtual option in addition to in-person services for those who, for one reason or another, cannot attend in person.
“[Livestreaming] is here to stay,” Joyce said.
“We’ll probably never get rid of [the virtual service]. We just find a lot of people who have found it helpful for them to connect with their church or congregation members, and also to have a safe place to go to worship online,” Uhlik said.