Starting on May 29, churches in Frederick County were allowed to meet indoors at 50 percent capacity and no more than 250 people. While some churches are continuing to meet online, others, like Frederick Church of the Brethren, met in person Sunday but stayed outside.
“God is with us whether we’re at home worshipping or whether we’re here and we all understand that but it’s like our family,” said Janice Bowman, a congregation member and director of lay ministries. “Our family can be away from a distance but when we get together and have our reunions it’s just like a reconnection time.”
Outside services are part of the church’s own “Phase 1,” which includes both online and outside service options. Under this phase, study groups meet online, at-risk people are encouraged to stay home, masks are required and the FCOB campus remains closed. Phase 2, expected to start in mid-to-late June will be similar but include indoor services.
“Certainly we’re trying to be cautious,” said Kevin King, lead pastor at FCOB. “But also recognizing that there’s different spectrums … There’s some who don’t want to come out and be with anyone. There’s others who can’t wait to be out amongst people and so our initial phase is to meet outside. We’re going to do that for at least two weeks. That helps us not only get the kinks out as we’re dealing with individuals and some of the different processes that we have to undergo but also helps us gauge numbers so that when we do go back inside, we’ll be able to have the appropriate number of services to accommodate the social distancing.”
On Sunday, FCOB offered several service options including two outdoor services for hearing people and one for those who are deaf.
Online services will continue as FCOB relaunches.
“We’ve found great value in that,” King said. “We’ve been able to reach individuals not just locally but even globally. We have people from different countries that have been able to tap in and our deaf fellowship has … been able to reach individuals who do not have deaf churches in their community and so we’ve been able to see a tremendous impact and have a tremendous impact in those cultures.”
Bowman said it was a very joyful experience to see people that she hasn’t seen in awhile.
“I’ve talked with some of them on the phone but to actually see them personally and talk to them is just kind of ... inspiring, kind of uplifting. I think we’re all getting a little bit antsy being in home or not being out a lot so it’s been just a really good experience,” she said.
Bowman, who has been on staff and a member of the church for about 30 years, said music is a very important part of worship.
“There’s always a synergy when you have people together. So our worship has a much more robust feel to it when you are together versus online,” she said. “I appreciate our online and I was always involved in that but I’m also very much mindful to be the church, we don’t have to meet in a building like this or in a parking lot.”
Bowman added that congregation members have been looking for ways to be the church, even when they’re not meeting together, including serving at the community garden, making masks, calling one another, making meals for people and helping those in the congregation that need an extra hand.
King said it’s difficult not to have personal contact online and that even meeting outside is different because things like hugging are not an option.
“But it’s again that opportunity just to be amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ but also to be outside on a beautiful day like this and share Christ in the community in which we live, so that’s been a pleasure,” he said.
King said he was most looking forward to worshipping together and being able to share Christ beyond the walls of the church.
“We believe that God is not just in a building. He dwells within us and so we have the opportunity to take him outside and so this may even be something we look at doing further down the road on a consistent basis,” he said.
It was a joyful day for Laura Anspach, director of caring ministries and lifelong congregation member, too.
“We can still worship online. It’s not a matter of just worshipping Jesus, it’s being there for each other is something we’ve missed,” she said.
For Anspach, specifically in her role as director of caring ministries, she works with those who are grieving, have lost loved ones or who don’t leave their homes. She said what she misses the most is being able to see people, smile and connect eye-to-eye, which is part of why she’s so happy that the congregation can see each other again.
Anspach said she feels like she can worship Christ no matter where she is but that many of the people she calls regularly as part of her job are lonely and craving connection.
“I think that’s the difference here and as long as we’re doing it in a safe way where we’re still 6 feet apart, we have our masks, you’re able to provide that connection with people,” she said.
She also noted that there are people who don’t have or understand how to access online services.
“[Meeting in-person is] giving them an opportunity again to be involved again and make that connection,” Anspach said.
Bowman also said that she’s been making DVD’s of services and devotionals for people who aren’t connected online.
Anspach said she was most looking forward to seeing the families. She teaches Sunday school and was able to see some of her students.
“Just seeing their faces was so good. It was so good to see them and it’s amazing how much particularly the young people have changed during this time,” she said.