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The Holy Spirit is not under quarantine in Washington state

During the pandemic, Longview Presbyterian Church has added members via Zoom

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Revs. Liz and Dexter Kearny, co-pastors of Longview Presbyterian Church in Longview, Washington. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — During the first week of COVID-19 quarantine and canceled in-person worship services, the Revs. Liz and Dexter Kearny performed a wedding via Zoom.

The Kearnys have served as co-pastors of Longview Presbyterian Church (LPC) in Longview, Washington, since 2016. It’s their first call following their studies at Princeton Theological Seminary and definitely their first virtual wedding.

The couple, two witnesses and the Kearnys stood outside in a park 10 feet apart.

“We signed the document one person at a time,” said Dexter. “Then we all went home, hopped on Zoom and did the service. We hadn’t had time to look up what was legally allowed over Zoom, so we figured we’d get the legal applications done, then come together and have a religious ceremony [on Zoom] with all the family and friends.” Dexter said he and Liz will preside over another virtual wedding next month.

Online services — even a wedding via Zoom — continue at Longview Presbyterian Church during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)

The virtual world has changed many things. Yet the Kearnys say worship attendance at LPC has remained fairly stable, around 60 each Sunday. They even had several new members join the congregation via Zoom recently.

B. Jo Brewer, one of the six new LPC members, visited the church a few times before in-person services were canceled. During those visits, she discovered that she already knew several people in the congregation through participating in social justice work in the community, cooking breakfast for residents of a homeless encampment and serving on the board of a domestic violence shelter.

She also found the sermons touched something deep in her soul. Before attending LPC, her mantra was, “I don’t do church.” After a few worship services, that changed to “If I were to do church, it would be Longview Presbyterian Church.” She calls the church a “little tiny dynamo community of faith.”

Initially Brewer considered waiting until in-person gatherings resumed to become a church member. But she decided instead to join others in an online new member class in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“What this says to me is it’s not the building. It’s not even the pastors in the pulpit. It’s the community of faith,” she said. “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.”

Jeannie Olander, her partner Devin Beiden, and her mother, Marlene Sandstrom, whom she cares for because of dementia, all joined LPC without ever having visited the church in person.

“I feel like God directed us,” Olander said, explaining that she feels LPC meets all their needs.

All are welcome at Longview Presbyterian Church. (Contributed photo)

Olander had a yearning to be in a church where her partner would be welcomed and accepted, instead of feeling condemned for being transgender, a message received from churches of other denominations in the past.

“We had a conversation with Liz and Dexter, and they share the Good News with us,” Olander said. “It gave us a lot of hope.” The Kearnys also set up a social gathering on Zoom for them to meet other members of the congregation. “We felt so incredibly comfortable,” Olander said. “Come as you are, we love you no matter what.”

Because her mom requires supervision and can’t be left alone, Olander is glad she and Beiden can attend online worship services together, and Olander is enjoying being part of a book club through LPC. She said the after-church fellowship time, via Zoom breakout rooms, has helped her get connected to other church members and what’s going on in their lives. Through quarantine, at least in their household, they are working together better than they ever have before. “I’m grateful for that,” Olander said.

Some members of Longview Presbyterian Church are pictured before the pandemic required social distancing. (Contributed photo)

The switch from in-person to virtual worship has been a step-by-step process. The first week Liz and Dexter sang the hymns a capeala. “In subsequent weeks we’ve had different people step up, using gifts we didn’t even know they had,” Dexter said. “One young man said, ‘Oh, yeah, I can layer music.’ The pianist plays and records the music, then four people separately record the different parts of each hymn. Then everything is layered, so it still feels a bit like the choir is still together.”

Instead of monthly events, LPC provides a fellowship opportunity and a Christian education opportunity on different days each week. Both of these online weekly events have been so successful that worshipers have asked that they continue after in-person gatherings resume. They say it allows people who are working outside the home, those working at home or retired to connect and engage without having to drive to the church building — which was difficult for some people, especially in the winter months when it gets dark earlier.

“It’s been really amazing to see how people have stepped up and used their gifts in new and creative ways,” Dexter said. “It reminds me of Isaiah 43:19: ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ I feel like the Holy Spirit is working,” he said. “This time has forced us to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing.”

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