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Marshalltown churches find solutions to COVID-19 isolation

T-R PHOTO BY THOMAS NELSON Pastor John Witmer of the Church of the Nazarene in Marshalltown is using email to connect with members of the congregation. Now that gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in town are utilizing technology to keep in touch with members.

Churches around Marshalltown are working hard to connect with people during the COVID-19 crisis after Gov. Kim Reynolds prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.

While most churches are using technology to share information and give resources, they find that nothing compares to in-person connection.

Pastor John Witmer of the Marshalltown Church of the Nazarene said the church is using email and other technology to connect even though the situation is uncertain.

“It seems to almost change daily,” he said. “Last Sunday we went fully online. We pre-recorded our worship service and posted it.”

Witmer said weekly emails are being sent to the congregation and the church is looking into other virtual resources such as Zoom for online prayer group and discipleship groups.

He said he wants to encourage his congregation and the community.

“I’m just looking for really simple things we can do,” Witmer said.

While practicing social distancing has created a big challenge, he has been able to find some good in the situation.

“There have been some positive things in the midst of this,” Witmer said.

For instance, the last sermon they posted was viewed by two times the number of people who usually attend services.

Church leadership is also trying to call all church members weekly, which has caused infrequent attendees to be more connected.

According to Witmer, Marshalltown pastors are emailing each other to get advice on how to deal with the situation.

“We’re all just learning from each other,” he said.

Witmer said the Church of the Nazarene is just like the rest of the community; they are unsure how long this will last, but they are doing their part to mitigate the spread of the virus and help others.

“We’re ready to help, certainly people in our community and neighbors,” he said.

Many look to their church for community and connection. Not being able to meet in person is just another way people are being isolated during the COVID-19 crisis. 

During this challenging time, Marshalltown churches are doing what they can to stay in contact.

Pastor Jeff Kodis of First United Methodist Church said they are also using technology to maintain the church community.

“We are really leaning into technology during this time to stay connected,” Kodis said.

He said they are streaming their worship services on the church Facebook page and are working on using video for prayer and small groups. Kodis also hopes that members of the congregation will connect through phone calls to encourage each other.

He said it has been difficult not being able to meet in person.

“This has been a huge challenge! Christianity is essentially a social religion — we worship together, pray together, study together and serve together, so it has been a real challenge to continue doing these things together from a distance,” Kodis said. “Technology has been a great help in this area, but it is really a poor substitute for getting together in person.”

He said members of First United Methodist are available to help Marshalltown residents who need assistance during this time. 

“We have people in our congregation who would love to do grocery shopping or run errands for people who are high-risk or cannot get out,” Kodis said.

Those who would like help can contact the church office. 

St. Francis Parish has sent emails out to parishioners to keep them updated and connected. 

Father Michael McAndrew and Father Alan Dietzenbach post daily video reflections on YouTube based on the readings. They also send out weekly bulletins and prayer guides.

Both St. Henry and St. Mary continue to be open for personal prayer, though people should be aware of the 10-person limit and practice social distancing.

Dietzenbach said informing parishioners on the situation has been difficult.

“One of the challenges for us was the suddenness with which public and parish events were cancelled,” he said. “We didn’t have much time to communicate to our less tech-savvy parishioners on ways they could stay involved.”

Dietzenbach said they have been able to find a positive in the situation by connecting with people. He encourages parishioners to help with the parish census and update parishioners’ contact information during this time.

“There are still a good number of people who don’t know what is happening, which is why we decided this is a great time to update our census information — because we have both more free time and more people at home,” he said. “Not only will this provide us with the benefit of more accurate information, but more importantly allows us to reach out to each other and know that others are there for them. It has also been great to see how this has reached new people in our community.”

Parish officials also ask those who are able to donate to the St. Francis Good Samaritan Fund, which will help those most affected by the coronavirus.

While COVID-19 has made all community connection a challenge, Marshalltown churches continue to push on and provide support not only for their congregations but also for the town as a whole.

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Contact Anna Shearer at 641-753-6611 or ashearer@timesrepublican.com