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No Congregation, But A Camera: Northwoods Churches Adapt To Livestreaming Services

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Pastor Jeremy Vander Galien’s voice echoed through empty halls of Pine Grove Community Church in Rhinelander on Thursday afternoon.

There weren’t very many people in the building, and there will be few on Sunday during worship time.

“We’ll have eight people in the building.  Someone running the livestream and sound.  We have two pastors.  We’ll both be here.  Then, we have four musicians,” he said.

Usually, about 250 people come to worship on Sunday mornings.  For those in attendance last weekend, it was likely the last time they’ll set foot in the church for weeks, if not months.

This week, Gov. Tony Evers put a ban on most gatherings of ten or more people to try to slow the transmission of the coronavirus.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Pastor Jeremy Vander Galien.

Since then, Vander Galien spent much of his time setting up a live video stream to be used at home by his congregation for Sunday services.  The readings, music, and sermon will be delivered from the church to computer screens and speakers, not in-person eyes and ears.

“The difficulty is, people need people.  The reason that we do church is that we want to get together.  We’re a body of Christ.  That technology can’t substitute for that,” Vander Galien said.  “But it’s going to have to for a bit.”

A single videocamera at the back of the sanctuary will capture the service.  Pine Grove has never livestreamed before, making this something of an experiment.

“It’s like a camping trip, almost.  It’s out of the ordinary.  We’re going to make the best of it.  You don’t have all of the normal things, but we’re going to have fun doing it,” Vander Galien said with a laugh.

Vander Galien said Sunday’s sermon will have a special message, one targeted at the current virus situation.

It will draw on Philippians, Chapter 4, which tells people, ‘Do not be anxious for anything.’

“The whole point of it is, anxiety always is a lie.  The circumstances are the god.  The circumstances control you.  The circumstances [pretend to be] telling you the truth, and they’re not.  They’re lying.  The way to combat it is God.  Look at God.  Look at what He is like,” he said.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Pine Grove Community Church.

At 9 o’clock Sunday morning, Pine Grove members will flip open their computers and find the church’s live stream.

Vander Galien will grab a microphone and start speaking to an empty sanctuary.

After the service, he’ll probably check the number of viewers, the new way to count church followers in this new reality.

“I guess it’s kind of like the winter before the spring.  That’s how we’re going to look at this,” he said.  “This isn’t ideal, but it’s what we can do, and can’t wait for it to be over.”

Several local churches are working to provide virtual options as the coronavirus limits gatherings.

Click here for a link to Pine Grove’s live service.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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