Out of all the negatives due to COVID emerges a positive.
St. Francis Church in Bend began virtually streaming mass at the beginning of the pandemic.
“It has proved to be a great benefit and a blessing for those who are sick, homebound,” Father Jose Thomas, pastor at St. Francis, said.
Fr. Jose said he’s received multiple emails asking the virtual services continue post-pandemic.
Sill, in-person services, does have benefits for those who practice Catholicism. Catholics can receive Eucharist at mass, and they can’t receive it at home.
“Those who are now returning to church, they always tell me at the end of the service, ‘it’s so good to be back and so good to receive the holy Eucharist again,'” Fr. Jose said.
Fr. Jose said around 60% of the church’s pre-pandemic churchgoers are back in the pews.
It’s a similar story across town at Westside Church, where only a portion have returned to in-person services.
“There’s just so many different things affecting how different people feel about it,” Ben Fleming, senior pastor at Westside Church, said. “Because of that I think that’s why we’re haven’t seen an immediate response that looks like snapping back to how things were before.”
Another change from the pandemic: Westside isn’t really measuring it’s reach and congregation numbers on how many people are sitting in a pew on Sunday, Fleming said.
Instead, they’re also looking at how many people are watching online, participating in a home church, engaging in service or listening to its podcast.
“Those statistics and levels of engagement have become a lot more valuable to us than they were before,” Fleming said.
With fewer people walking through the church doors on Sunday morning, there’s a question of, will some people ever return to in-person services, now they’re used to watching church from the comfort of their couch?
“I personally find the physical gathering to be really really helpful and conducive for more really important relationships,” Fleming said.
Fleming said he believes religious people need to find that balance between personal rest at home and community formed in religious spaces.