BEMIDJI -- Church leaders in the Bemidji area are looking for new ways to connect with their worshipers as the coronavirus pandemic has put public gatherings on hold.

“We’re all feeling just a little shellshocked from all of it,” said Genelle Netland, lead pastor at Calvary Lutheran in Bemidji. “I came to work (Monday) and just kind of felt sad. The changes are happening so fast. And yet I think we will be a better church for it as we figure out how to be a church in the community in a different way.”

Calvary leaders announced Monday a decision to discontinue in-house worship services beginning Wednesday, March 18 and continuing until at least April 1. Netland said they are planning to offer virtual services to those with online connections.

“I want to try to be the church for those who need it, especially in these anxious times,” Netland said. “We just have to find a new way to do that, and we’ll probably be a better church for figuring this out in the long run. So we’re trying to do a variety of things through our website, through Facebook, and also we’ll have some written things that will help people in faith formation and in worship. We hope to get a daily message out that are shorter pieces maybe with a song that will help people through these anxious times. If they can’t get on to a computer or aren’t that computer savvy we will have materials that we can either mail or have people pick up during the week.”

Calvary is forming a team of volunteers to make phone calls to everyone in the congregation. They will be checking on how parishioners are coping, asking if they or their neighbors need anything and how the church can best connect with them for worship and faith formation resources.

“If someone needs groceries run, we’ll try to do that,” Netland said. “We will try to activate the church in ways we’ve never really needed to before.”

Another new reality for clergy members is that they cannot make visits to homes, hospitals or nursing homes, and funeral services cannot be held as usual.

“I was at a funeral home today telling a family we couldn’t do a funeral at Calvary,” Netland said. “That about ripped my heart out. It’s the one thing I feel like I can do. I just want to take care of you, and all the traditional ways of caring for you are not what I can offer you today. I would feel terrible if we had this big service and someone was infected and we all went down. I can’t live with that responsibility.”

For the family Netland met with on Monday, the plan will be to videotape the memorial service and post the video on YouTube so it can be shared with those who cannot attend.

“It’s not quite the same thing,” Netland said, “but we think it’s the next best thing to having some closure for your loved one without risking your health or mobility to get there.”

As the new reality set in this week, other clergy members in the area are making alternate plans as well. First Lutheran in Bemidji, for example, plans to start holding a 10:45 a.m. “drive-in worship” in the parking on Sunday, March 22. It’s similar to the church’s summertime drive-in services held at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds, where worshipers tune in to a shortwave radio signal.

First Lutheran’s 8:30 a.m. Sunday worship services will continue, with only necessary personnel at the church. Those services are regularly broadcast on 94.3 FM and 1300 AM radio stations as well as Paul Bunyan Television channel 951. The church also is working on plans to livestream the service on YouTube.

Bethel Lutheran in Bemidji announced Tuesday it has canceled until further notice its Sunday worship services, Sunday school, Wednesday men's group, Bible study, Lenten services and potluck lunch, and all youth activities.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Cass Lake has canceled all activities and services through March 27.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Bemidji will continue to hold services according to the following schedule: Wednesday Lent Midweek Vespers at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Sunday Divine Services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. For further information, contact the church at (218) 444-4441 or visit www. trinitybemidji.org. They will use necessary precautions to help keep those in attendance safe.

New Salem Lutheran Church in Turtle River has suspended all church activities and services through Sunday, April 26. Updates and online worship options can be found on New Salem’s Facebook page and website.

As with other area churches, alternate plans are being developed as the week goes on. People are urged to check church websites or call to learn of any changes.