Keeping the faith during a pandemic

By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

ALABASTER – Attending faith services can be the highlight of any given week for a lot of people. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused many people to miss months of services in order to protect their health.

As more people get vaccinated, more churches are willing to make the transition from virtual services back to limited in-person gatherings. While everyone has a different comfort level, members of congregations are itching to get back into their churches to fellowship with others and receive spiritual education.

Eric Mancil, rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, said that much of his parish was willing to make the change for everyone’s safety, but are beginning to be ready to be together in person.

“They have been very patient through all of this. It was a very hard year for everyone last year,” Mancil said. “People feel disconnected, which was understandable since we could not meet in person. It was really tough, because for a lot of our members this community is such an important part of their lives.”

Around the beginning of the pandemic the church began switching to virtual services, where everyone could meet safely from the comfort of their own homes. Later in the fall of 2020 they slowly resumed in-person service, but this quickly reverted as COVID-19 cases shot back up.

“During this time, we did as much as we could with the intention of keeping everyone in the church and community safe,” Mancil explained. “In the middle of February of this year we felt comfortable having some in-person services again. Now we have resumed both of our Sunday services, but we are asking our members to distance and wear masks.”

To ensure the safety of their members, the church has blocked off certain seats in their building. They are asking groups to only sit with the people that they came to church with and asks them to pre-register to ensure that everyone will have a seat.

Mancil expressed that the pandemic did provide a valuable learning opportunity for him and the church. He said that they found new ways to connect with his congregation, and with others in the community.

“One thing that has made things easier is that we livestream one of our services,” he explained. “We were not doing that before the pandemic. One of the hidden blessings in all of this is that it has allowed us to think of new ways to reach out into the community and provide new opportunities for us to reach out to people in their homes.”

The ongoing pandemic has caused people to miss out on their usual faith activities, which has led to a desire for spiritual education and healing among the members of the community.

“I think hope is the central message we need to provide as a church,” Mancil said. “People want to hear that message. After the pandemic is over, I think that a lot more people will have the desire to seek out a faith community even if they never went before. People are looking for a message of hope.”

There is a lot of uncertainty about how things will progress in the coming months, but through faith and a strong sense of hope Mancil said that he has hope for the future.

“One of the things that I have discovered over the past year is that people need a sense of hope,” he said. “I think that the church can provide that in a very real and meaningful way. We do not have a lot planned in the long term, but hopefully by the fall we will all be back together.”