Instead of having thousands of members arriving for Easter services at Idlewild Baptist Church, in Lutz, Senior Pastor Ken Whitten expects they’ll be tuning in instead.
The church’s 15,000 members will be able to watch on Vimeo, Facebook or Idlewild.org the services, which will be presented in English and American Sign Language, and translated into Spanish.
Those presenting the service will be social distancing, Whitten said.
“We’ll be 6 feet apart. From the praise band to the camera people and myself, there’s never any more than 10 people,” he said.
COVID-19 has presented unique challenges, the pastor said.
“In all of my life, I’ve never ever experienced anything like this. We’ve had hurricanes, where we’ve missed two Sundays, but this will be our fourth Sunday doing online church,” Whitten said.
Being unable to connect in person is difficult for people, Whitten said.
“God made us for relationships, and God made us to want to be together.
“So, there’s something inside of us — I think an ache — inside the whole world right now,” he said.
Legally, the church could hold its large gatherings, because despite a Stay-at-Home order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, religious assemblies are deemed an essential service.
“We might by law be able to congregate,” Whitten said. “Here’s the question, ‘Is that even the right thing to do?
Jesus said the two greatest commandments are “to love the lord thy God with all thy heart, mind and strength” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.
“I don’t think you can fulfill that second commandment and be a vector of infection, and bring a disease to people you are saying that you love,” Whitten said.
“The reason we’re not meeting is because we’re trying to do our part.
“Keep in mind, the church is not the only one who has been asked to stand down. We have no sports. We have no NASCAR.
“It doesn’t matter, no matter what you are normally used to, (it) is not there.
“There’s no Master’s. March Madness didn’t happen. It became March sadness, didn’t it,” Whitten said.
COVID-19 has created a medical and economic crisis.
In the midst of that, Whitten said, “I think the message we need to give people right now is this: Live one day at a time, with trust, trusting that God’s got this. That he hasn’t taken his eye off us. He knows what tomorrow brings.
“The best thing we can do is to continue to put our trust in him and continue to be an encouragement to the people around us that need that trust,” Whitten said.
Others using technology to share Easter services include NorthPointe Church, 19862 Amanda Park Drive; Bay Hope Church, at 17030 Lakeshore Road; St. Timothy Catholic Church, at 17512 Lakeshore Road; and, First Baptist Church of Lutz, 18116 U.S. 41, all in Lutz.
Land O’ Lakes churches using that approach include Land O’ Lakes United Methodist Church, at 6209 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., and Harvester Community Church, 2432 Collier Parkway.
Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, 2348 Collier Parkway in Land O’ Lakes, will be using technology, too, but to make it more personal, the church has placed enlarged photographs of church members on chairs within the church.
Meanwhile, Myrtle Lake Baptist Church, at 2018 Reigler Road in Land O’Lakes, will be having Drive-In Church on April 12 at 10:30 a.m.
“You will simply drive into our parking lot and tune in on an FM channel (which will be displayed on our slide truck) and worship with us from the comfort of your own car. We will celebrate communion together with commercially purchased, prepackaged, individual communion elements and collect our offering in free-standing receptacles as you exit the parking lot,” the church’s website says.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the county, Grace Community Church also will be having drive-in services.
Normally, members would arrive in their Easter finery, celebrate their faith together and pose afterwards for family portraits, said Pastor Jeff Olsen.
But, this year, they’ll drive to the church 7107 Boyette Road in Wesley Chapel, and they’ll stay in their cars — for either the Sunrise service at 7:15 a.m., or the 10:30 a.m. gathering.
Instead of spending a couple of minutes at the beginning of the service greeting each other personally, they’ll take out their cellphones to text or call other members who are there; or reach out to church members who couldn’t make it to the service.
Then, at the conclusion, instead of posing for family portraits, they’ll whip out their cellphones and take family selfies.
Even though the service could be livestreamed, Olsen said he prefers having the congregation there — even if they need to stay in their cars.
“It seems like there’s more that can be done when we’re in a common space,” the pastor said, noting the church has already tried out this model and it seems to be working well.
Olsen said the central message of the sermon he plans to deliver will be something like this: “Because the grave is empty and Jesus is alive, we have living hope — even when things seem hopeless.”
Others are adapting services, as well.
AdventHealth Zephyrhills will have its 35th annual Easter Sunrise Service online, instead of on the hospital’s lawn.
The service will be streamed online on Easter Sunday, April 12 from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., and will be available for replay on the hospital’s Facebook page, according to a hospital news release.
Pastor Dennis Harmeson, of Awake Wesleyan Church, will deliver this year’s sermon and Darling Giordani will provide a musical selection.
The shift to online breaks an East Pasco tradition that dates back for more than three decades.
It was done, according to the hospital, “out of an abundance of caution to protect the safety and well-being of the community due to the spread of COVID-19.
“AdventHealth is committed to caring for the community – body, mind and spirit, as we live out our mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ,” a release says.
At St. Joseph Catholic Church, at 38710 Fifth Ave., in Zephyrhills, videos of Holy Week and Easter services, featuring the Rev. Allan Tupa, will be available on the church’s website.
On that website, the pastor told parishioners, “Your safety and health are my primary concerns as we confront the sobering and unsettling realities of this pandemic.”
He added: “This severe moment that is unfolding throughout the world enables us to see the profound truth underlying the season of Lent: Life is fragile, and our flesh is weak. Yet scripture assures us in Psalm 46 that God is ‘an ever-present help in time of distress.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, at 7333 Adventist Church, at 7333 Dairy Road in Zephyrhills, will continue to hold online-only services through April 30.
Published April 08, 2020