7:20 a.m. — I drove from Lancaster City, Pa., where I live, on 222 North toward Reading. My assignment: photograph the 8 a.m. service at Weaverland Anabaptist Community Church to get an example of worship in an empty sanctuary for a congregation staying home due to COVID-19.
The four-lane, limited-access highway had a little traffic. On a normal Sunday, in another hour it would be busy. I thought about the thousands of worshipers who would not be going out to the many churches in Lancaster County. And I wondered if the Old Order people would follow the COVID-19 requirements to stay at home.
7:30 — I headed east on 322, Division Highway, from Ephrata toward New Holland. There was almost no traffic, only one Amish buggy and no Old Order Mennonite buggies.
7:35 — I arrive at Weaverland, a congregation of LMC, the fellowship of Anabaptist churches based in Lancaster. I enter the office door, the only unlocked door, of this large Mennonite church that has been in the Weaverland Valley for more than 280 years. Three of their pastors — Brian Martin, Don Weaver and Al Stoltzfus — met me there.
Martin invited me into the sanctuary, where the worship band was finishing their rehearsal. There were also at least four members of the tech crew, a sign interpreter and others who were going to be part of Weaverland’s second Sunday with only an online congregation.
The service was being live-streamed and would continue to be available on the church’s website. Weaverland has been livestreaming for about three years. Before March 15 the livestream had only a few viewers, one of the pastors said, but now it is the service for everyone. I went to the balcony to check with the camera operator and techie to learn where I could shoot photos without getting into their video shots.
7:45 — Everyone gathered in the front of the sanctuary for Martin to go over the details and how to keep the flow for the livestream. The group prayed before it was time to start.
8 — The livestream began at the usual time of Weaverland’s first service. On a typical Sunday, total attendance at the two services is about 470. Sunday school, with 28 adult classes, takes place in between.
The service included hymns, contemporary music, a personal testimony and a celebration of communion. Martin preached on Jesus’ presence with us no matter what the situation. Just as Jesus remained at the table in the upper room with his disciples during the darkest hour, Jesus is present at the table with us.
9:18 — The service ended on schedule.
9:40 — I left the church and meandered through the Old Order Mennonite and Amish areas between Weaverland Valley and Lancaster City. There were almost no buggies to be seen, and none of the eight to 10 horse-and-buggy Mennonite churches were open.
I did not see any Amish homes with the many buggies around the house and barn that one would see on a typical Sunday. It looked like the Old Order communities were following the mandate not to meet in public groups.
Weaverland’s service is online at weaverland.org.
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