More Alaska churches restrict events amid fear of COVID-19

    Alaska’s faith communities are a state of flux as pastors struggle with whether to keep churches open for Sunday worship and mid-week ministries.

    A growing number of churches are canceling religious services and providing online or televised options. Others are remaining open but on a limited basis, and with safety precautions in place.

    Large Evangelical churches such as Changepoint in Anchorage and Church on the Rock in Wasilla were open this past Sunday, but future services are uncertain.

    She acknowledged the moral conflict that significant social changes to combat the virus pose, especially for faith communities.

    Soldotna’s Church of the Nazarene held an abbreviated service on Sunday, while cancelling Sunday school and midweek services. Likewise, Wasilla Bible Church held Sunday services, but cancelled all on-site Bible studies, youth groups and other ministries. Home groups met at the discretion of the leaders.

    On March 17, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski informed interior Catholics that there would be no more public masses or faith formation events across his diocese until April 3. Zielinski had kept the parishes open this past weekend, while the Catholic dioceses in Anchorage and Juneau had already closed down.

    “Yesterday, I was on a phone conference with the governor’s office and faith leaders around the state related to the COVID-19 /Coronavirus pandemic,” Zielinski said in a letter to the diocese. “Doctor Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, predicts significant spreading of the virus over the next several weeks in the state. She acknowledged the moral conflict that significant social changes to combat the virus pose, especially for faith communities.”

    As with the other two Catholic dioceses, Fairbanks will allow parishioners to utilize churches for individual prayer while maintaining social distancing. Zielinski reminded his flock that despite restrictions, the faithful should still remember to keep the Sabbath holy. Individual families, he said, “should pray the readings of the day and offer a spiritual communion asking for the grace to receive Christ with humility…We will be working on a way to stream the private celebration of Mass via our diocesan website and other social media outlets.”

    “Jesus said the peace I give you is not like the peace the world gives you,” Brown said. “Put your trust in God.”

    New Life Church in Kenai also cancelled Sunday gatherings for the rest of the month, after hearing from local, state and national leaders about the need to limit events to 10 people or less.

    “Taking a look at this, we just felt the most logical thing for us to do is not have services here at the church for the next two weeks,” said lead Pastor Stephen Brown in a Facebook video. “We’re scrambling to provide some content for you so Sunday morning at 10:30 we will have a live Facebook feed.”

    He urged his flock to spend time reading the Bible and to rely on Christ during this uncertain time.

    “Jesus said the peace I give you is not like the peace the world gives you,” Brown said. “Put your trust in God.”

    Many churches are updating their websites and social media pages daily as schedules are adjusted and events postponed or cancelled. For more information, visit local church websites or call their offices.

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    Joel Davidson
    Joel Davidson
    Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.

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