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Sidewalk Communion in Webster City

Church of Christ takes services outside as the congregation returns to worship

— Submitted photo
The Webster City Church of Christ met in an outdoor setting last Sunday, keeping the appropriate social distance as recommended. Church officials plan to continue with the outdoor services for the next several weeks.

WEBSTER CITY — It’s been challenging for churches and worship communities during the pandemic restrictions. Worship services, circle meetings, choir practices, youth group outings and other familiar segments of spiritual life were put on hold amid government restrictions.

Churches had to get creative, like offering worship via Facebook Live broadcasts or meeting via Zoom or FaceTime.

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she would ease some of the restrictions, allowing churches to once again gather for worship. Many, however, are taking a slow return to the usual practices. Social distancing still applies.

One Webster City church decided to take it to the streets to gather worshippers. Webster City Church of Christ started holding Communion services last Sunday in the street between the church and The Bridge, the satellite location.

“I’ve got a great group of people here who talked through all of this and helped decide how we could meet,” said the Rev. Chad Halbach. “The governor lifted some restrictions and certainly opened the window for us to gather together.”

Halbach and his staff — Jana Meyer, Armond Floyd, Tony and Robin Streigle, Chris Parkhill and Halbach’s wife, Marsha — sat down together to work through the details. They decided it was just too soon to return to the sanctuary for services.

“We didn’t think it was a good idea to meet in the building yet. We were afraid of that being a confined space,” he said. “It seemed a lot safer to meet outdoors.”

They took the idea to the eldership of the church — Greg Pride, Wendell Doolittle, John Laird, David Meyer and Brian Applegate. The staff and the eldership walked through the possibilities and decided that meeting outside would likely be the safest option.

“That seemed the best way to observe the social distancing but still gather together,” he said. “We decided it was really important that we gather.”

City officials gave the church the OK to close Des Moines Street for the one block between Division and Bank streets. Halbach said they brought the sound system from The Bridge outside and they set up tables and chairs at a safe distance.

“It was nice to be outside and around each other. I was worried though, because when people haven’t been around each other for a while, they want to give hugs and say hi. I think we did a really good job of observing a 6- to 10-foot distance between us,” Halbach said.

Being able to see and talk with each other offered a bit of normalcy for the church members, he said.

“I think it’s really important that we observe the boundaries as far as how do we keep each other safe. But at the same time, I think there’s a great need for hope and encouragement,” he said. “It’s amazing to me how gathering — even with these limitations — was a huge encouragement.”

Halbach said the service went well enough that Webster City Church of Christ will hold the outdoor services for the next several weeks.

During the governor’s restrictions, Halbach said the church decided to do a Facebook live broadcast every Sunday at 11 a.m. which focused on taking Communion together as a congregation.

“That part of our service is really important and that would become the focus for our time. I didn’t feel right about doing a regular service. We didn’t want to act like everything was normal when nothing is normal now,” he said.

They filled that brief, 30-minute service from a variety of locations over several weeks, including from Halbach’s house.

“That was a way for us to stay connected,” he said.

The services in the street will follow a similar format.

“It’s a stripped-down service — 30 minutes or less — and we talk about Communion, what that is, why it is and then we do that together,” he said. “Sidewalk Communion is what we’re calling it.”

The service will also be broadcast on Facebook Live at 11 a.m.

On Sunday, the church will be grilling for Mother’s Day.

“Several of us have been over to the school and gotten meals, and we can do drive-thru,” he said. “So, we’re going to pass out a free meal and say ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ with more than just words.”

The meal will be served at 11:30 a.m. following the service and will consist of burgers and hot dogs and will be a no-contact lunch.

“We feel like we’re supposed to be serving the community, and this is the best way we know how,” Halbach said.

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