Although the doors are closed and there are no Sunday services at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Marlborough, the church is open online five days a week, with additional opportunities. Whether parishioners are looking for a sermon, prayer, coffee hour, or even a book club meeting, it is available, with both Zoom and YouTube platforms.
In addition, parishioners are also using “old school” methods to make sure, although people can’t congregate, they can still feel part of a congregation. Easter cards were mailed to everyone, and now the church council is contacting all members by phone, email or note to say, “How are you doing?”
“In a time of physical distancing, community and togetherness are as vital as ever,” notes Pastor Joseph Graumann. “As a church, we are best when we are connecting people, and our focus is connection. This is why we provide weekly opportunities for ‘coffee hour,’ which is a time just to check in and chat. Our worship videos can be accessed at your leisure, and they connect you to a millennia-long tradition of faith and hope.”
Pastor Graumann began his weekly “Sermon Without Germin’ series on YouTube on Sunday, March 22, where he discusses the weekly gospel lesson not only with its original relevance, but connects it to today’s challenges with COVID-19. The April 19 message featured as guest speaker James Hazelwood, Bishop of the New England Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Also on YouTube were weekly messages from Pastor Graumann for Wednesdays in Lent. Those have continued, and both Wednesday and Sunday messages can be viewed at any time on YouTube.
For Easter Sunday, St. Stephen Lutheran Church held a live Zoom service, with prayers, sermon, and even festive organ music played by music director Stan Hanson. The small church attracted at least 80 people, more than the typical live Sunday worship. Committees/teams, the confirmation class, book clubs, and the youth group have been meeting via Zoom.
“Our youth group Zoom meetings provide a space for kids to hang out and have fun,” Pastor Graumann said, noting that one of the activities has been Pictionary via Zoom.
The Sunday offering will change from YouTube to Zoom in May, “with worship on Zoom, led entirely from our homes. With our building closed, we celebrate Christ’s presence in all creation, especially in our homes and our hearts,” the pastor added. To access any of the church’s programs, go to the calendar on the website, www.saintstephenlutheran.com, and click the appropriate link.
For more information about St. Stephen Lutheran Church, visit www.saintstephenlutheran.com or the church’s Facebook page. Saint Stephen is a member of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (www.elca.org) . The church is a Reconciling in Christ congregation, inviting people of every gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, marital status, or class. Parishioners come from Marlborough, Hudson, Berlin, Northborough, Southborough, Westborough, Shrewsbury, Sudbury, Stow, and Bolton.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change our daily lives, Holy Week has taken on new dimensions. We are still unable to gather together for worship, and as we look to the cross, death seems to swirl around us. This is a difficult time, and it is a time when we need the hope that springs from Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Holy Week will be different this year. While we are working hard to maintain community ties and to share God’s Word, our online services are simply different than gathering in person. For Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we will have a zoom meeting at 5PM to gather for prayer and community time followed by a 7 PM YouTube video message. Easter Vigil, we will celebrate that “this is the night” with a YouTube video. Stan will be providing some music for each of these videos. We’re grateful for his continued leadership in this time.
On Easter Sunday, we will have a zoom worship service, with live music and readings, all led from our respective homes. This will not be a videotaped service from an empty sanctuary. It will be living and incarnate from house to house. Even though it may not feel like the Easters we know and love, we trust that Christ is still risen. God continues to bring new life amidst the death around us.
I look forward to the time we can shout our Easter hallelujahs in person. I truly miss the handshakes and hugs that go along with our gatherings. But soon enough, just as we are sure in the resurrection, we will surely gather once more around God’s table and sing, “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!”
For now, please stay at home. Wash your hands regularly, and avoid public spaces of all kinds. Call one another and check in. Pray. May God bless you and keep you safe.
Yours in Christ,