“It was just like coming home again,” said member Nancy Briggs of the first outdoor service ever held at Fields United Methodist Church on Lorain Road. Attendees were in cars or on socially distanced lawn chairs for the church’s first in-person service since March 8.
Pastor Tom Joyce said more than 100 people attended the service on June 6, an increase from the normal Saturday service attendance of between 40 and 60. Fields used a small FM transmitter to broadcast the service via radio to cars parked on the grounds. The broadcast reached no farther than the border of the church’s grounds. A public-address system carried the service to those outside their cars.
Joyce said he felt it important to get his congregation back together physically while Gov. Mike DeWine, as well as the leadership of the United Methodist Church, debate when churches can hold indoor services.
“It was really a holy time,” Joyce said of the Saturday evening service. “I think people enjoyed getting back on the grounds and seeing other people’s faces. The church is a community … that’s part of where the strength of the church comes from.”
The service included live music by Fields’ in-house musical group. Briggs said Joyce has a tremendous singing voice and particularly enjoyed his version of “It’s a Wonderful World.”
Fields has livestreamed Sunday morning services and will continue to do so even after church buildings reopen. Joyce likes to say churches never closed. He believes churches are not the buildings used by the congregation but consist of the congregation itself.
Sharon Blotzer was a member of the church committee that planned the Saturday outdoor service. She likes that attendees can either remain in their cars or sit on the lawn. Masks were encouraged but not required.
“I think people are wanting to see other people,” she said. “It’s a good start for when we can get together inside.”
“People were really excited about being together and that’s good,” Joyce said.
While indoor services are still on hold, Joyce is allowed to let groups of 10 or fewer inside for such things as a weekly Thursday night Bible study.
“You know the funerals we have had here have been very sad occasions because we are limited to 10 people,” Joyce said.
In addition to maintaining social distancing, Joyce said the church took other steps during the Saturday service to keep the congregation safe, such as not passing around a collection plate.
“The basic line I’d like folks to know is, ‘We want to do no harm,’” Joyce said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Passing the hat at the Saturday service was not essential. Fields’ finances are in better shape than they were a year ago despite the closures, Joyce said. “The people at Fields are very dedicated… They don’t want to see the church fade away,” he said.
“The biggest challenge I have as a pastor is the people who are in the hospital or who are grieving, I can’t be there to help them as much as I would like to be,” Joyce said. “That’s very much a challenge for me. I can’t go and visit someone who is sick in the hospital.”
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