Many churches cancel services, look for ways to reach out to members and the community

Cindy Mullet
Thursday, March 19, 2020
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Area churches, including the United Methodist Church, have made changes to worship schedules in light of the COVID-19 guidelines to reduce gathering sizes. 

Many Glendive churches have cancelled regular Sunday, midweek and Lenten services as well as youth and other group activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but all are looking for ways to give hope to their members and the community and to keep people together in a time of crisis.

The Assembly of God, Glendive Alliance, Community Bible, Glendive Evangelical, Sacred Heart Catholic, Glendive United Methodist and Zion Lutheran churches have suspended all public services at their church buildings until further notice.

Break Forth Bible Church is cancelling all children’s programs and Wednesday evening services but will continue to hold Sunday morning services. According to the pastor, Jeremy Vester, the church will live-stream the Sunday service on the church website for people who do not feel comfortable attending.

Since the Church of Christ is a fairly small group, it also plans to continue regular Sunday morning services, spokesman Jim Squires said. The church had planned to hold a fifth Sunday song service, but those plans are now in flux.

New Life Ministries, Our Savior Lutheran Church, West Side Baptist and The Church in Glendive will also be holding regular Sunday morning services. West Side Baptist has cancelled children’s Sunday school, Joy Club, the Wednesday evening meeting and youth activities.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ and White Chapel Mennonite Church had not yet made final decisions on holding Sunday Services. White Chapel Mennonite has cancelled its March game night scheduled for Thursday and will update plans on its Facebook page.

The decision to cancel services was not an easy one.

Many church boards had emergency meetings Monday night to discuss their options. Others took directions from denominational leadership. All looked long and hard at the CDC recommendations and asked God for wisdom and direction.

Members of the Glendive Alliance Church have views varying from feeling that virus concerns are the greatest hoax yet to being sure everyone’s going to die, Pastor Matt Hull noted. He knows not everyone will be happy with the church board’s decision but emphasized it was made, not from a place of fear but from one of caution.

“Scripture calls upon us as Christians to care for the least of these, for the vulnerable, for the dependent, for those who are unable to defend themselves,” he said, adding this was the basis for the church’s decision.

While public gathering are suspended, many churches are turning to technology in an attempt to function as closely as possible to being a church body, live-streaming services, communicating through e-mail and Facebook pages or through radio broadcasts.

Glendive United Methodist Church Pastor Carol Rhan will use Facebook Live to present an 11 a.m. Sunday message and prayers. She recognizes that it is difficult to change ways but believes the church has a responsibility to keep church members and the community safe. She encourages people with questions to contact her through Facebook or stop by the church for oneon-one meetings.

Rhan also encourages her church members and the community to look out for each other by not hoarding but sharing goods, checking in on shut-ins, sending cards and making phone calls and working together to ease anxieties, fears and sacrifices.

The Assembly of God will live-stream Sunday morning services, pastor Kevin Peterson noted, adding that the church leadership is also looking at possibly putting together some children’s videos for viewing in place of regular children’s activities. He too hopes to maintain contact with members through facebook and phone calls.

“We do not live in fear but we want to be supportive of sensible steps to limit the chances of spreading any sickness at this time,” he noted

Community Bible is also going to an on-line format, Pastor Tim Burdick said. Posts on the church web page will redirect viewers to a YouTube site where they can listen to the week’s sermon.

According to pastor David Steinbron, Glendive Evangelical Church will air Sunday services on KGLE AM 590 radio from 11 to 11:30 a.m. There will be a praise and worship time with a message as well. After the service from 11:30 a.m. to 12 noon, on-line, face-to-face small group church will be held via ZOOM. Zoom groups will be arranged ahead of time. Those wishing to participate should call Steinbron at 641-638-1657.

“In this time, we are already looking into what we can do as a church for our community,” Steinbron noted. “We are talking with members of the community and local government to help find a need or two to fill. In this crisis we want to continue to be there for our community.”

Following a directive from the Office of the Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Sacred Heart Church has cancelled all masses, all religious education classes, penance services and soup suppers. The church will remain open for personal and family prayers.

While New Life Ministries will continue to hold Sunday services, Pastor Roger Knight urges members to protect themselves and others by following the recommended practices for hygiene, health, and safety.

“We are definitely not testing God by unnecessarily putting ourselves or others in harm’s way and have told the elderly or those with a compromised immune system that if they don’t feel safe joining us for service they are in no way obligated to do so,” he said, noting that, “In some ways, the digital age was made for an emergency like this. We now have the ability to call or use a computer to stay in contact, pray and share God’s word with those that cannot attend.”

The Church in Glendive will also continue to hold services but members are taking precautions and sanitizing the building before services. Sermons are also available on their Facebook page, a spokesman noted.

Zion Lutheran Church will continue to broadcast a Sunday service at 10 a.m. on KXGN AM 1400 radio. “We will still be on the radio, even if it means listening to the pastor sings solos,” Pastor Brenda Fresli noted on the church Facebook page.

While the church has suspended services and cancelled activities, church leaders will be watching and monitoring the situation. Ministries such as the Salvation Army, Loaves and Fishes and the furniture room will continue to function for people in need of those services, she said, adding that she is planning to check with the food bank to see if they are in need of additional donations and looking at ways the church can meet that need.

Darren Green of White Chapel Mennonite Church has been preaching on wilderness experiences during the Lenten season and noted, “When we look at the people that God led into the wilderness, they were to trust in God to bring them through on his terms, and they were to follow where he leads.”

The mission of the church today is to look out for the more vulnerable, encourage those who, because of their jobs, can’t be isolated and support teachers and parents as they face cancelled classes and schedule changes.

“As we go through the wilderness we’ve got to keep our eyes up in order to see what God is doing and to see the needs of those around us,” he concluded.

Reach Cindy Mullet at

“Scripture calls upon us as Christians to care for the least of these, for the vulnerable, for the dependent, for those who are unable to defend themselves,”

Pastor Matt Hull, Glendive Alliance Church