Peace Lutheran offers Sunday worship services online

An Asian man wearing a clerical collar holds a book by the church's baptismal font, while a white man in a blue sweater works a phone-camera.

Pastor Bill Wong, left, opens a Sunday worship service with a prayer. Church organist Walt Strony, left, embraces his newly added role of filming for online worship services. Photo by Anne Vaaler.

The joy of God’s presence continues to lift people up through online worship services at Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley. Though church pews sit empty, anyone can find spiritual nourishment amid the COVID-19 pandemic through Peace’s music, scripture readings and preaching.

Despite recent state guidelines that outline the limited re-opening of houses of worship, Peace’s building remains closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This will help people “to stay well and to save lives,” says interim Pastor Bill Wong. “Many at this congregation view this as a way to love our neighbors.”

 “We pray in isolation, we sing the hymns alone… We live the Easter message by gladly serving you.” Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

At Peace, a dedicated cadre of staff and lay worship leaders gather in the sanctuary in the middle of each week. Together, they record the worship service for the Sunday coming up. The abbreviated format includes the Gospel reading, a sermon from interim Pastor Bill Wong, and music led by organist Walt Strony and vocalist Anne Vaaler. Words to the hymns appear on the video screen, so viewers can sing along.

“A crisis is a time when people really need God and crave spiritual guidance,” Strony said. “None of our staff had ever done an online service before, and we were a little insecure about our lack of experience. But, the overwhelming feeling was that we needed to make this happen.”

A time for spiritual deepening – aided by joy online

A white man wearing a blue sweater plays a song on an organ, while a white woman in a blue dress sings from sheet music.

Peace keyboardist Walt Strony accompanies vocalist Anne Vaaler as they record the piece for an online Sunday worship experience.

So staff and lay worship leaders, including Myrna Heppe and Judy Kenney, eagerly accepted the challenge. During a recent rehearsal, Vaaler — a local music teacher who also directs the Colla Voce Youth Chorus using Zoom — practiced newly published lyrics written for the pandemic and set to a familiar hymn. The words speak to the discomfort of COVID-19 restrictions. They also remind listeners that God’s love is stronger, and they are not alone despite physical isolation. Lyricist Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a Presbyterian minister based in New York, recently published several such pandemic-related works.

“When I learned about these new lyrics, I knew that they would speak our heartbreak and express our hopes for the time when we can gather again without fear or worry,” Vaaler says. “God is with us, and this has been an amazing time for learning acceptance and patience!”

This can even be a time for finding deeper joy in one’s faith with the help of online resources, wrote Bishop Mark W. Holmerud, of the regional Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He encouraged faithful people to gather online or in small groups, using all recommended precautions. Online, people can still enjoy prayer, Bible study and planning service projects to help those in need. He also urged congregations to remain closed for in-person worship until the end of July. He called online worship “a very effective tool for evangelism.”

“I am weary of sheltering in place… and yet I am hopeful,” Holmerud wrote. “Imagine what might come out of such times of study, prayer and service that would inform how we will worship when we are able to safely gather again!”

National guidelines for houses of Worship

Peace members are holding Bible study and Sunday morning fellowship online using email and Zoom. Contact the church office for more information, (530) 273-9631.

What we Believe at Peace Lutheran Church