Ashton United Methodist Church members continue to feel the Holy Spirit during worship services held via the web.
“The Spirit is there. The Spirit works powerfully even through Facebook and Zoom,” says its minister Pastor Desi Larson. “Technology is such a blessing. I give thanks for it. Every time we have a meeting, we give thanks to God.”
Since March, COVID-19 gathering restrictions have prevented the Methodists from meeting in person at their building located at 178 5th Street. Until the church’s bishop and district superintendent give the congregation the go-ahead to meet together, they will continue to meet online.
Larson says that worshiping God isn’t relegated to the inside of a building.
“The church is me. The church is you. As the song goes ‘It’s not a steeple; it’s the people.’ My hope is that we encourage spiritual growth among members,” she said.
Made up of about 150 members, the Ashton United Methodist Church meets for Sunday school via Zoom at 10 a.m. and for worship at 11 a.m. Larson also provides prayers and reflection several times a week on Facebook.
Church members also meet Tuesday at noon for a “Faith and Film” discussion via Facebook.
“Just Tuesday, we talked about the movie ‘Paul: Apostle of Christ.’ It’s powerful. Next week we’ll be doing ‘Amazing Grace’ about the guy who wrote the hymn. It’s open to everyone,” she said.
On Wednesday at 7 p.m., Larson hosts an evening prayer service. She also sends out newsletters to church members in hopes of keeping them up-to-date on church happenings.
Some of those happenings include providing church families with religious related activity lessons. Recently, it provided a discussion on St. Francis of Assisi who was the patron saint of animals.
“We delivered coloring pages and animal cookies. We’ve got something planned for Halloween and All Saints’ Day. We’ve been trying to have, at least once a month, a delivery to families, so they can be doing things with their kids at home,” Larson said.
Lifelong church member Sandi Bowersox says she misses attending church in person but is grateful the internet has provided a way to continue worshiping.
“I think Pastor Desi has done a great work in trying to stay connected and to keep everybody up and doing the prayer meetings. She’s done a great job,” she said.
Bowersox says she still feels God’s presence while attending Pastor Larson’s weekly sermons via the web.
“The Lord is everywhere, but we need Pastor Desi and the church through Zoom to keep us all connected,” she said.
Bowersox says she’s “not a technology person” and never thought about attending church through her computer.
“Go to church via the web? I did not imagine it,” she said.
The church’s streaming services will get better thanks to a donation from a United Methodist Church family following the passing of a loved one just prior to the pandemic hitting. The money will cover the cost of cameras to improve the quality of online worship. It’s expected the upgrades will be completed by the end of November, Larson said.
“The family approved upgrading our live streaming capabilities. It couldn’t have come at a better time. You know how God works — in wonderful ways,” Larson said.
Pastor Larson says that while 2020 didn’t turn out as imagined, it’s provided opportunities for Ashton’s faith community to unite in helping others. Ashton churches recently joined forces to provide $50 to $100 grocery cards to families who suffered unemployment due to COVID-19.
“The grocery cards went out to 60 families in April right as the pandemic hit. People were losing work. We got together as community folks from churches and business and to identify folks who could use the immediate help because of the pandemic,” Larson said.
Larson has served as the United Methodist Church for nearly five years. While she grew up in Ashton, she later lived around the world before settling in Maine where she worked as a college professor. She later heard God’s call, became a Methodist minister and returned to Ashton to serve. Larson says she greatly enjoys her calling as a minister.
And the best thing about it?
“It’s mostly the people, and the community that works together. The second is just the beauty of the community — the mountains and the rivers,” she said.
Despite the challenges that resulted from 2020, Larson says that her congregation will be made stronger because of COVID-19’s impact.
“I think we’ll be better for it as individuals. My prayer is that we will continue to have opportunities to worship, to grow in our faith and to serve our community. My hope during this time is that we’ve grown spiritually,” she said.
For more information on the church call (208) 652-7356 or visit https://www.facebook.com/AshtonCommunityUMC.