PARK CITY — For worship services this week, David and Judy Rowe and their two daughters, Mariella and Natalie, sang songs, bowed heads in prayer, attended classes, heard inspiring messages and engaged in fun activities that taught gospel-centered lessons.

The family of four came away spiritually edified, just like any weekend, as members of Wasatch Hills Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The only difference was this time the Rowes watched church services from their living room sofa via a laptop screen, in compliance with guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“I thought it went amazingly smoothly,” said Judy Rowe, who added that services even ended just about on time. “I think the kids had a good time. They looked engaged as you looked at the video screen. ... It was educational, spiritually edifying. I think it accomplished what happens when we go to church every week.”

Like the Rowes and their church, many faith communities across Utah are turning to technology in various forms to continue religious traditions and rituals without in-person meetings or gatherings.

More than 40 people joined the Wasatch Hills video church service Saturday, the day when Seventh-Day Adventists observe the Sabbath. One family led songs with voices and guitar while others were muted but could sing along in their homes.

Another family performed a puppet show with a meaningful message to be a good friend and help people in need.

A pastor held a show and tell with personal items he’d collected over his lifetime, including a small facial cast he wore after he broke his nose in high school. He used the items to teach the children that God cares about the little details of their lives.

The families also engaged in a 30-question Kahoot! game and a “Guess-who” Bible contest, among other activities.

Three families conducted a pilot video meeting last week to work out the bugs, which made a big difference this week, the Rowes said.

“We had to be more orderly this time,” Judy Rowe said, “because there were a lot of wiggly kids.”

People often turn to faith for comfort during a crisis. How can churches help from behind closed doors?
Many churches stay dark, but Sunday devotion carries on around the world
Utah faith leaders send messages of hope to congregations facing troubled times

As part of their Sabbath meeting schedule, David Rowe moderated a video class for 14- to 18-year-olds who have been troubled by recent events. Not only was it beneficial to see each other again, but the video class provided a forum for the youths to ask questions and have a discussion. Wasatch Hills is considering the idea of having more virtual gatherings for youth during the week, he said.

“They are processing being an adult at a time like this,” said David Rowe, who is nursing a fever and bad cough. “They talk to parents and teachers, but I think it’s kind of important for them to process what they are thinking about with each other.”

The only “distressing” part of the video meeting experience for David Rowe was not speaking with people face-to-face. But if there’s a generation prepared to handle less face-to-face interaction and still have a meaningful existence, this is the generation to do it, he said.

“They have the tools. They are already acclimatized this way,” he said. “We just hope we can help them adjust to living in a spiritual community and having a relationship with God and all those things in a world where they might not have as much connection with each other anymore.”

Barry Curtis, the senior pastor at Wasatch Hills, said the church’s first response to the suspended church services was to make a video sermon called “Reverse Hoarding,” which encourages people to think less about amassing supplies and look to assist others in the community. In the process they realized the value of using online tools to meet the spiritual needs of church members, he said.

“It took a little bit of groundwork this week. We’ve had several of our people working on strategies as to how we can keep people plugged in using online tools,” Pastor Curtis said. “It’s been crazy, you know, and I’m sure that’s true for everybody. But faith leaders, we have a certain challenge when it comes to coordinating these things because in one way, it feels like you don’t have a job anymore. Yet in another way, there’s a different kind of job. ... How do we do it on a virtual platform? How do we do it online, rather than face-to-face and in groups? So that’s what we’ve been working on.”

In addition to video or livestream services, Utah faith communities are keeping in contact via text messaging, websites, emails and Facebook pages.

After services were suspended, the Rev. Joshua Heimbuck, the pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Logan, stayed in touch with leaders and members through text and email. He began to record Bible readings and sermons. He also started calling people on the membership rolls.

“It’s nice because at least we can talk to each other,” the Rev. Heimbuck said. “We’re trying to use the technology as best as we can. ... I was checking in to make sure people were getting the messages so they can at least stay connected.”

People value that personal connection, he said.

“It’s difficult because I miss the people, and in talking to some of them, I think they are missing everybody, too,” the Rev. Heimbuck said. “I think it helps when we reach out, and not just texting, actually talking to people and hearing their voice.”

The Rev. Vanessa G. Cato, one of the church’s clergy at Ogden’s Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, was sad the church had to cancel its community lunch and other activities, but church leaders have used technology to send out a variety of resources to individuals and families. They look forward to holding a special Easter service whenever it’s possible to gather again.

“I think people are grateful that we’re trying to keep in touch with them,” the Rev. Cato said. “Everybody seems to be pulling together. I think people are getting into the practice of the new normal. They are beginning to calm down and ... certainly seem to be appreciating reflections and prayers that we’re offering.”

Pastor Dave Sauer, of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Brigham City, is also making a lot of phone calls. Some members of the 67-year-old pastor’s flock are currently staying in an extended care facility. He wishes he could visit them in person but doesn’t want anyone to get sick. He’s offered many prayers from his knees for one member.

“I’ve got one person who is 91 and I’m concerned because he has diabetes. If he gets sick, are we going to lose him?” Pastor Sauer said. “As much as I want to go around and visit everybody, I can’t do that. I don’t want to get anybody sick while I’m trying to minister to them.”

Along with staying in touch, faith leaders plan to continue sharing messages designed to lift and inspire hope in followers.

“Know that you are all in our hearts and prayers. You are not alone and you are loved.” — Rabbi Samuel L. Spector

After facing a 5.7 earthquake, the continuing spread of COVID-19 and the untimely death of a father (not coronavirus) in their religious school, Rabbi Samuel L. Spector shared his feelings in a lengthy letter to Congregation Kol Ami.

The rabbi cited scriptural and modern examples of events that caused fear but where. people came together in a spirit of unity to overcome.

“In the midst of all the change that we have experienced in the past week, a constant is that your community loves you, cares about you and is here for you,” Rabbi Spector wrote. “Time and again, we have found ourselves in difficult moments as a people, and every time we have responded, ‘Gam Zeh YaAvor, This Too, Shall Pass,’ and when it does, we have defiantly said, ‘Am Yisrael Chai, The People of Israel Live.’

“Our present circumstance is no different. Please let me know how we can be present for you, but in the meantime, know that you are all in our hearts and prayers. You are not alone and you are loved.”