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Churches in Baraboo, Portage get creative during closures, look forward to reopening
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Churches in Baraboo, Portage get creative during closures, look forward to reopening

When Gov. Tony Evers first issued a “safer-at-home” order to address the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in Baraboo and Portage had to get creative to continue providing worship services to their communities.

With the order lifted and churches able to reopen, they are faced with similar challenges.

Church administration at First United Methodist Church in Baraboo is still trying to find a safe way to resume in-person services, but plans to follow recommendations from the health professionals, said Kerri Olson, the chairwoman of the church’s administrative council.

“We have been working with the Sauk County Health Department and emergency management department for them to guide us,” Olson said. “We will be using data to inform our decision, to make sure that we are using information that the county provides that advises if we’re ready to go from phase one to phase two or phase two to phase three.”

When the church initially had to stop in-person services in March, administration and the Rev. Marianne Cotter quickly moved to Facebook Live for Sunday services, which was a major change from plans they’d made for services and events at the church a week earlier.

“We made our decision quite early. We had a day-long planning retreat on March 7,” Olson said. “We were all ready to move ahead with our goals and plans. By March 16, only nine days later, we were making the decision to close the church. We found ourselves in a completely different space, and decided to err on the side of caution.”

Since the start of the safer at home order, the church used Facebook Live to stream its usual Sunday services and has conducted video meetings for Sunday School and Youth Group Services.

“We immediately started doing online worship, and we had not been doing that, so we had to learn as we go,” Olson said.

While the church has no concrete opening date, it is now allowed to have no more than 10 people in the building at once to comply with Sauk County guidelines. It will continue to do virtual services, Olson said.

“The main concern is the physical, emotional and spiritual health and well-being and safety of our congregation,” Olson said. “We don’t want to put anyone at risk.”

For St. Joseph Catholic Church in Baraboo, the need for virtual services during the coronavirus pandemic didn’t catch the Rev. Jay Poster off guard, as the church had already been live-streaming services for five years.

Poster said the only difference between his usual virtual services and ones he created since the pandemic was giving them to an empty church.

“We have been live-streaming our Masses for five years, so we just continued to do that, except people couldn’t come anymore,” Poster said. “It’s a little empty feeling, but it’s still the prayer. The Mass that we offer is still a prayer, so there is still that communication with God. We miss the people.”

St. Joseph’s is open, and is allowing 10 people in the church at once. Poster says they have worked out a lottery system where 10 names are drawn at random each week and those people are allowed to attend services in-person.

“We ask people to submit their name if they want to come, and we draw them at random and make sure everyone gets at least one chance to come,” Poster said. “It looks like the government has changed the situation so that we can open for more pretty soon.”

In Portage, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church also began providing virtual services, complete with an organist performing hymns and sermons from the Rev. Greg Hovland.

Hovland also began providing social distancing communion, where no more than 10 people would be in the church at once.

“We were doing individual or household communion in our sanctuary,” said Hovland. “I think it worked well, we had multiple times for people to do that. We had around 80 to 90 households that participated each week.”

The church also offered individual, at-home communion options.

Hovland said he plans to reopen the church for services of around 50 people present on May 27. He said the church will also be adding two additional service times to accommodate as many people wishing to attend in person.

The church will also continue to do virtual services for church members who have health concerns.

“We’re trying to be safe and smart,” said Hovland. “We understand that while safer at home has been lifted, the disease is still out there.”

Follow Nicole on Twitter @Nicole_Aimone

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