As the total number of cases of COVID-19 appear to be on the rise, religious communities throughout the world are finding new ways to continue to worship. Italy is one of the hardest hit countries and the government imposed a quarantine for all its citizens. This ultimately resulted in an unprecedented announcement from Pope Francis to hold Easter mass without the public for the first time.

As the request for quarantine becomes more prevalent, many churches are currently exploring new and creative ways that they can minister to each other and to people in the community during this unique time.

It’s certainly unfortunate that this outbreak is occurring during the Easter Season—which brings Christians together around the globe to rejoice and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The virus is forcing churches worldwide to find alternative ways to celebrate and worship while maintaining crucial self-distancing.

On March 20 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended avoiding large gatherings of 50 or more for eight weeks, which would include Easter Sunday, April 12.

On March 19, The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg suspended public masses for all Catholic churches in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties. Most churches throughout the United States have followed suit and suspended all church functions, gatherings and worship services, including the churches in our local communities.

With social distancing necessary, churches are now navigating different forms of ‘live’ worship through streaming services on their websites, Facebook Live and YouTube. Many churches are even considering other alternatives such as drive-in worship services, where churchgoers remain in their cars in the parking lot.

New Beginnings Christian Church, located at 4100 S. Manhattan Ave. in Tampa, has been conducting drive-in church services for several years. Other churches are considering communion supplies for pickup or drop-off at houses for the faithful that still want to partake in the sacrament of communion.

Because churches cannot congregate in person, this may also affect tithes and offerings. Many churches are making online donations available on websites or other electronic means.

There is a concern that elderly congregants may not have access to the internet, the ability to stream services or make their weekly offerings online. This could lead to further isolation when the faithful cannot gather to fellowship.

As the news changes daily, the churches will need to remain flexible and continue to explore how to best serve their members during this difficult time.

Kristen Franzen of Riverview normally attends Sun City Center United Methodist Church. She says that her family will be watching the live worship service from their home on Sundays until church services resume as normal.

“They have been posting videos to Facebook to let the congregation know that they are streaming two services every Sunday,” she said.

It’s during these times that we are reminded that the people are the church, not the actual building. Throughout the Bible, church is always a reference to people, not a place.

Thankfully, there are many ways for the faithful to fellowship together with the numerous new technologies available. And hopefully, when the social distancing has come to an end, church members across the globe will be able to fellowship in person, hug, take communion and worship together once again.

Let us remember Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”