Summit County faith leaders differ on county church regulations
DILLON — On Saturday local church officials shared their thoughts on how public-health order regulations are affecting the religious community, as Summit County entered Stage 1 on its “Roadmap To Recovery” on Monday, April 27 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Opinions were varying. Chuck Straughn of Ten Peaks Church was happy with how the county has worked with him to cultivate creative ways to host services.
Karen Johns of Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church said the church is trying to make the best of a bad situation. They are keeping a positive attitude about how they can still interact with church members while the county order currently mandates no gatherings of more than 10 people.
Jim Howard, the senior pastor at Dillon Community Church, was critical of the county’s current order, saying those he’s interacted with have been negatively affected in terms of their mental health and family and social lives. As he sees it, the county has “pulled the plug on personal connection.”
“I do virtual coffees all the time, and it can only go so far,” Howard said. “People need touch.”
Stage 1 of the “Roadmap To Recovery,” deems places of worship as being “open with strict precautions” — such as social distancing, signage and face coverings. County spokeswoman Julie Sutor said when the county is able to enter Stage 2, the strict precautions would continue and the maximum number of people in a group gathering would be 25-50. In Stage 3 that will be upped to 250 people.
Straughn said after Ten Peaks Church lost access to their typical gathering location, the Silverthorne Library, he used his technology background to build a radio transmitter.
He used it to broadcast an on-site FM radio transmission which reaches a few hundred yards out. Families of churchgoers are able to park their cars within the broadcast range to worship. It’s a method of worship involving social distancing that county Public Health Director Amy Wineland approved. He said the church is content to continue with services like this through summer.
“It’s so people have that presence and experience of worship in a physical setting,” Straughn said.
Over at Dillon Community Church, Howard said the county’s outlining of the stages this week didn’t improve anything for his large congregation.
“The whole basic approach is being focused in one area, and that’s public safety,” Howard said. “But what they’ve done is they’ve effectively removed our ability to help people with both healing and celebration.”
“I’m hearing it from everyone,” the pastor added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not Christian, a Republican or a Democrat. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the continuums.”
Howard pointed to recent teen suicides in the county, canceled weddings and funerals due to the 10-person maximum and “numerous marriages on the rocks” as negative developments from the county’s health order.
“Every area that requires personal contact, they’ve removed,” Howard said. “At the start of this, it felt like we would figure it out. It was novel and we could wait. Then came the phase of fear. And now we’ve entered the phase of anger and frustration. I’m not sure I know anybody that is not angry now. And I’m talking 1,000 people in our county.”
Howard added he and other Dillon Community Church personnel are “overwhelmed” in advising people frustrated with the shutdown, including talking people down from opening up their businesses in defiance of the health order.
“It’s a steam kettle that’s pressurized and it’s going to explode,” Howard said. “…My request is just open the door and let us get back together. We are not rabble-rousers. We are just citizens who want to do something right.”
Sutor said the county is acutely aware of the stresses associated with the restrictions in the public health orders and struggles with that balance on an hourly basis.
“Every community across our country is struggling with the same decisions,” Sutor said, “People’s mental and economic well-being contribute significantly to their emotional well-being, and we hope to stabilize our circumstances here in Summit County as soon as possible.
“Every single day that we navigate these uncharted waters, we understand that the restrictions have real impacts on our community,” Sutor added. “But these measures are in place to save lives, so that’s the balance we have to strike.”
At Rocky Mountain Lutheran, Johns, the congregation president, said though the church community is not content with the current situation, they understand it. She said the church is continuing its Sunday live-stream video services like previous weeks while also increasing one-to-one phone call outreach to church goers and encouraging families to share video readings from home.
She said the church’s bishop is targeting June 7 as a possible day to return to normal, pending health developments.
“None of us want that going into the future as our permanent means of worship, but it’s what we have,” Johns said. “We can see each other. We are doing all kinds of meetings on Zoom. We are still seeing faces.
“This is a challenge,” Johns added, “but often times challenge presents an opportunity to change.”
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