Story updated March 27, 2020: A statement from Pastor Sabina Terrades states that “To honor Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandate, FUMC will not host Sunday services starting this week. We will meet live on Facebook every Sunday at 9 am.”

SOUTHBRIDGE — The outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S. comes right before one of the busiest times for many Christian churches: Easter Sunday. The holiday, in which worshippers across Christian denominations mark the resurrection of Jesus, falls on April 12 this year. It’s also one of the most well-attended celebrations in churches and houses of worship throughout the U.S. With 65 percent of U.S. adults (about 160 million) saying they belong to a church, that’s a lot of people potentially headed into communal worship soon.

“With the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus, we are confronted once more with the fragility of our lives, and again we are reminded of our common humanity — that the peoples of this world are our brothers and sisters, that we are all one family under God,” says Pastor Sabina Terrades, First United Methodist Church’s (FUMC) leader. “God does not abandon us, he goes with us even now in this time of trial and testing. In this moment, it is important for us to anchor our hearts in the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices for the love of God and the love of our neighbor.”

FUMC has been taking matters into their own hands, not only to prevent the spread of coronavirus but also to make sure the community does not lose a sense of belonging and isolates during these uncertain times.

Early on, FUMC shared with the congregation that there would be no communion by intinction (dipping the bread into the cup of juice). Worshippers were also encouraged not to shaking each other’s hands during the customary “sign of peace” exchange, and to instead do a verbally. There has been profuse use of hand and other sanitizers. This response is emblematic of how other houses of worship have been handling the crisis. FUMC also cancelled other planned onsite events such as the weekly Bible study and the Community Easter Egg Hunt.

The church has continued meeting on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. as the congregation attending is under 10 individuals in a very large space.

“We didn’t want to give in to the fear,” Pastor Sabina said of her church’s decision to remain open for a small group of parishioners. Elderly members have been encouraged to stay at home. FUMC started streaming its services on Facebook. The weekly Bible study on Monday evenings, as well as other devotional and prayer times have been organized using Zoom and Facebook. The monthly newsletter continues being sent out and Pastor Sabina encourages everyone to call each other and nurture each other in love.

One of the church’s major concerns was its twice-weekly free meals. The onsite meals have been cancelled but the needy and homeless now have the opportunity to drop by the church on the same days (Mondays and Fridays between 5 and 6 p.m.) to receive a “grab’ n go” meal.

“I could not imagine completely cancelling what happens to be the only hot meals some people get during the week,” says Pastor Sabina. “We also give away food and bread products. We want people to know that, in uncertain times, one thing is certain: God and your church are with you.”

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