The Rev. Kerry R. Mansir delivers a sermon Sunday from the altar at Christ Church Episcopal, located on the Gardiner Common. Her family members were the only people present during the service, which was livestreamed from the 1820 church building. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

GARDINER — In the massive sanctuary at Christ Church Episcopal, the Rev. Kerry Mansir conducted last Sunday’s service to a nearly empty room.

Mansir’s son, Patrick, 14, sat behind a smartphone, which was broadcasting the service to the church’s parishioners, who were tuned in through Facebook Live. Mansir, the church’s rector, said her bishop handed down orders quickly about church services.

“He has been very clear that while we want to provide worship in creative ways, that our first priority is stopping the spread,” she said. “There’s nothing we’ve done that could spread it.”

Mansir said her virtual services have been well-received by churchgoers, but the limitations have not allowed for communion, a part that was difficult to miss.

“We can’t break bread together and we can’t be at the table together; that’s hard,” she said. “Just in general, not being able to be gathered is just sad.”

Some parishioners are sending in videos of themselves playing songs, Mansir said, which are played during the service. For some members of the church who don’t have internet access, she is sending out sermons and readings in the mail.

Aside from normal service, Mansir said that her church hosts its coffee hours through Zoom, a video conferencing software. She said about a dozen people joined the last one.

Patrick Mansir, 14, left, runs the audio and digital equipment Sunday as his mother, the Rev. Kerry R. Mansir, prepares with her husband, Jeff, and daughters, Catherine, 12, left, and Sarah Mansir, 11, to livestream a service at Christ Church Episcopal, on the Gardiner Common. The family were the only ones present during the service. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Mansir said Christ Church Episcopal will not make any changes following the announcement of Gov. Janet Mills’s four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy on Tuesday, which states that stay-in-your-vehicle religious services are allowed as of May 1. Mansir said her church will use the month of May to come up with plans to safely meet in person in June.

Just down Church Street, at Life Community Church, Pastor Ramsey Tripp led a “drive-in service” April 26 where he conducted service from a stage while members sat in their cars. With services like the one last Sunday, people could connect with each other during uncertain times.

“We had a service that would be a typical service for us but in the parking lot,” Tripp said. “They could sing songs and pray together.”

State officials were skeptical of drive-in gatherings until about two weeks ago, Tripp said, when they were given the OK to hold them. He said the church wanted to have services in person, because he has seen a “community shift” during the pandemic, where people are sometimes only viewed at as “possible conveyors of disease.”

“We’re whole people; we have our bodies, our minds and our spirit,” Tripp said. “I spoke with one guy who was suicidal and (thought) we have to do something other than worrying about coronavirus.”

Tripp, who also works in video production, said Life Community Church closed a week before the governor’s mandate. He said the church’s services usually bring in about 50 people, but numbers for online services were lower because some members of the community might not have access to the internet. Last week, he said members of other churches visited Life Community as their churches were not able to conduct services.

Tripp said Friday that Sunday’s service will continue as a drive-in, but the church will “reevaluate after that.”

Lead Pastor Dan Coleman at Augusta’s Central Church said he has been conducting online services since March, which he said are drawing “thousands from across the state and beyond.” These services stream on Facebook, YouTube and “Church Online” platforms.

“During this time, we are reminding people that the church is so much more than a building,” Coleman said. “The buildings may be quiet and empty, but the church is very much active and alive.”

On top of the online services, the church has also started a podcast, where contributors use Zoom and speak from their homes. Coleman said the pandemic has “allowed (church officials) to become more creative in how we produce services, which is never a bad thing.”

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