The pews at St. Charles Catholic Church in Bowman are empty now during Mass.
They will stay that way.
Normally, Father Paul Eberle says that he could have about 100 people filling the pews during Mass in Bowman.
There would be smaller groups when he’d visit St. Mel in Rhame and St. Mary in Marmarth.
Those visits to the communities along Highway 12 between Bowman and the Montana border have been canceled.
Sunday, Fr. Eberle moved the Mass online, broadcasting it on Facebook Live. “It will be on our Facebook page. Also, I am going to have it up so that people can also view it on the parish website for the people who don’t have Facebook,” he explained. “Our website is www.stcharlesbowmannd.com. It may stay there (online) for a while, he said. “People will be able to watch it at anytime after the fact. They can watch it live on Facebook, or they can watch it when I post it so it stays on there.”
In addition, he said that services will be archived online for about a week.
The move was part of a social distancing plan forced by the impact COVID-19 has had on America in the last two weeks and on North Dakota in particular.
The virus, which attacks the respiratory system, has killed more than 2,300 people in America.
Fr. Eberle said that almost all of the public church events will be online, except for confession.
“I have Mass every day during Lent from 5:30 p.m. from Monday through Friday, Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.,” he said. It will be slightly different for confession, he explained. “I have a little note on the door asking people to use the screen in the confessional so I have a little less human contact and a little less chance of spreading anything.” That will be from 5 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. on weekdays and an hour before Mass on Saturdays and Sundays, he added.
“This is the first time I’ll be using Facebook Live,” he said Saturday. “It is new to me.”
He also said that he will download the Mass from YouTube onto the church website.
“Everybody has become more conscientious of social distance. Nobody is shaking hands right now. I will visit with people outside, but we stay away from each other,” he explained.
It has also forced him to cancel visits to the nursing home or to shut-ins. “I do a little more calling on the phone.”
Now, Fr. Eberle said that each Mass or service will have empty pews and just his phone and laptop computer. “I have my laptop set up right in front of the altar. I have my phone set up to do Facebook Live and my laptop to do the recording to load it onto YouTube and onto our website,” he explained.
He went through a trial and error period where he experimented with how close to have the phone pick up sound clearly, he added. “The first couple of time I did it, there was a kind of echo in the church because nobody was in there. That made it harder for people to hear. The way I have got it now, people say they can hear really well.”
Parishioners in Rhame and Marmarth are encouraged to watch his Facebook posts, he added.
For people who do not have access to the internet, Mass is also telecast on EWTN every day. “I’d rather they would tune in for their own parish, if they can,” he said.
The current warmer weather is also a challenge to local residents, according to Father Eberle. “This is the time when people want to get together more and be outside,” he said.
The church is trying to make the most of the situation, even though many events have been postponed indefinitely, like the Fish Fry which had been scheduled for March 27, he said. “We would like to have it some time, when its back to normal.”
St. Charles Catholic Church is not the only local church which has had to make changes after North Dakota’s governor issued an executive order to close places where people meet in groups.
Bowman Lutheran Church
There are no cars in the parking lot for the church at 105 Seventh Avenue in Bowman on Sunday.
The worship is broadcast at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday on local radio station KPOK (1340AM) and on Consolidated Cable’s local access channel (92). In addition, people can listen to the service online at kpokradio.com.
The church has Sunday School packets for children to pick up and also for Confirmation students, according to a church posting on their Facebook page. “We have been working hard to put together some curriculum and leader guides during this time of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be a great family resource to keep growing in faith, especially during this difficult time,” the post said.
“Our call to love God and love our neighbors is leading us to continue using caution and cancel all in-person worship gatherings on Wednesdays or Sundays until further notice. Our prayer is that we will soon be in safer days and can resume meeting together for worship,” another Facebook post from Pastor Renee Johnson and Pastor Chuck Johnson said.
The church also announced there would not be meetings in person at Lebanon Lutheran in Amidon, First Lutheran in Rhame and Bethany Lutheran south of Rhame.
Assembly of God Church
The Assembly of God Church in Bowman is offering its sermon video online after the service has concluded in addition to being livestreamed on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. Sunday mornings. In addition, the audio of the service is posted on its website.
The church has posted devotional material online for its members, including reflections and a music list.
The church also announced that it has canceled all activities at the church, but can be reached by internet or phone.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church
The church on Eighth Street is closed to public services at present.
However, they have posted on YouTube.com.
“This is a strange time for all of us as churches are closing or canceling worship service, many of us are isolated in our home,” Pastor David Werner said in a YouTube.com post from March 20.
“While we will miss each other at our usual Sabbath morning worship, I wanted to offer you a biblical message which kind of speaks to what we are all going through right now...,” he started in the YouTube.com post.
“If we are isolated in our homes, how do we function as a church,” he questioned the viewers.