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COVID-19 pandemic: St. Luke’s ends Zoom services

By David Stoneberg

The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 shut down many parts of society, forced people to stay at home, and closed churches, including St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. In-person Sunday services were not held for more than a year and we strived for a “new normal” that is we were physically distant but sought to be socially connected.

In a letter to the diocese in April 2020, Bishop Megan M. Traquair reflected on the challenge: “Like generations before us, we are forced with the demand that we do hard things without a guaranteed outcome. And like them, our source of courage and hope is in the promise of the Resurrection: New life in the place of death. We will ride this out and return to re-shape, re-build and restore our communities.”

At St. Luke’s starting in April 2020, Deacon Susan Napoliello undertook to keep our church community together, sending out weekly newsletters, which included Scripture readings, a prayer list and a link to Zoom and a link to reflections by the Rev. William “Father Mac” McIlmoyl. Videographer Nathan Schwab first filmed Father Mac at home, beginning on March 22, 2020.

Napoliello said both she and Mac “wanted to keep the (church) community together,” and she set up and ran the Zoom services for several months. Soon those attending Sunday church services via Zoom offered Scripture readings and York and Elizabeth Wong wrote and York read a weekly Collect.

In August, I offered to help Napoliello and thought it would be for several months, never realizing it would be more than two years. I took over sending out weekly newsletters on Fridays and hosting the Zoom services on Sundays, including running a coffee hour after the service for those who wanted to stay on Zoom.

For the 21 weeks of Sundays from August through December 2020, attendance was 33.1, with a high of 40 and low of 27. The first video recorded in the church sanctuary was Nov. 13, 2020; a few weeks later, the first live streaming Sunday services were broadcast via Zoom.

For the 52 weeks of Sundays in 2021, attendance was 24.8, with a high of 40 and a low of 13 on Christmas Eve. For the 16 weeks from January until Easter Sunday on April 4, average attendance was 32.9. The congregation was first allowed in the church sanctuary on Good Friday, April 2.

In 2022, Zoom services were held weekly until Christmas Eve. Average attendance was 19.0, with a high of 30 in February and a low of 12 in July.

In both 2020 and 2021, especially before church leaders opened the sanctuary for Sunday worship, the after service coffee hour was very important in keeping our church community connected. Each week, we would share our experiences and the group gradually became friends. In August 2021, the Mission Committee unanimously agreed to pay me $1,500 for past Zoom services and $300 a month going forward.

The church’s Mission Committee worked closely with Nathan Schwab on his service of filming, editing and posting his weekly videos of the church services, as well as buying the needed equipment. Both Schwab’s videos and Zoom were added services due to the pandemic. Senior Warden Carolyn Czapleksi wrote about Zoom at one point saying, “For St. Luke’s it has been a blessing that we have all been able to continue church with Father Mac and our coffee hour friends. Without Zoom, we do not know how we would have continued our service and staying together. Because of Nathan’s talents, this was all made possible.”

At one point, Charles Johnston, current church member and former Mission Committee member, issued a challenge – he would pledge $1,500 to pay for the Zoom services as long as an additional $1,500 could be raised. It was and the $3,000 was used to continue Zoom and filming services.

In December 2022, the Mission Committee decided to discontinue Zoom services and continue with non-hosted Livestream services, which is what many other churches had done, as of Jan. 1, 2023. The last live Zoom service was Dec. 18, 2022.

Editor’s Note: Dave Stoneberg is the former Zoom master for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, who serves on the Mission Committee.