Local ministers take Holy Week to the web

Apr 4, 2020

Holy Week, the culmination of Christian faith, has descended upon churches in Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. Amidst the fears of the spread of coronavirus, ministers in the area are trying to instill hope into their congregations while trying to keep hope alive in their own lives.

Father John Ozug of St. Anthony’s and St. Rita’s understands that this year’s Holy Week is “going to be very different from any we have known up to now, and we will all feel it.”

For him, giving Mass to an empty sanctuary is a strange feeling.

When the virus started to change daily life, Rev. Amy Lignitz Harken of Mattapoisett Congregational Church didn’t think it would affect church life so quickly.

“We left that Sunday morning expecting we’d be back the next Sunday,” said Rev. Harkin of her last service as a church on March 13.

She, like many ministers in the area, is trying to comprehend the impact of the virus while quickly shifting the way she operates. 

Rev. Harkin said that her church’s natural response to crisis would be to gather together and help the community, but with social distancing measures in place, the most they can do is send emails and call members while donating to local food banks.

Rev. MaryAnn Purtill of the First Congregational Church of Marion tried to make this Holy Week feel normal by planning a drive-through handout of palms and hermetically-sealed communion cups at the Benjamin D. Cushing Center on Palm Sunday to “gather as a community and give the opportunity to see each other.”

But when Marion announced its first confirmed case of the virus, the in-person portion of the church’s Palm Sunday service was cancelled. 

For Pastor Colby Olson of First Congregational Church of Rochester, his first service as the church’s new pastor was online, so he was never able to have that feeling with his current congregation. 

The task of Bob Malm, the interim minister at St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church is to get to know his members better during the period between old and new pastors. While he usually visits houses, he said “it’s a little hard to get to know someone over the phone.”

But the Easter story is one of hope and ministers in the area are sharing that feeling with their members and figuring out ways to overcome social distancing during Holy Week. 

Malm said that the amount of resources in the Episcopal Church, such as podcasts of morning prayer groups, is remarkable. On top of giving these out, he said that his church is lucky to have already been working on streaming services months before the virus broke out. For Easter Sunday, the church will post a link to a service held by a larger Episcopal Church.

Olson has been streaming live on Facebook since he began on March 15. Although it’s sad to not be able to meet his congregation, he said that it’s a way to push his church along technologically. 

Fr. Ozug asked members to send pictures of themselves so that he could tape them to the chairs to feel a little less lonely while giving Mass.

Rev. Harkin will hold Mattapoisett Congregational’s Maundy Thursday service via Zoom and will be live-streaming their Easter Sunday service on ORCTV.

In lieu of handing out palms, both Rev. Harkin and Rev. Purtill are asking congregants to put a palm on their doors to signify Palm Sunday. 

On top of this, First Congregational Church of Marion will be holding its after-service coffee hour over Zoom on Palm Sunday and releasing a pre-recorded Easter Sunday service on its site and social media accounts.

Rev. Purtill said that while this time is a challenge for the Church to shift the way it handles holy week, the virus is “calling all the churches to realize that church isn’t just the building.”