COVID-19 created challenges for churches, but now online worship considered essential

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DENVER — Churches, like all of us, shifted online as COVID-19 restrictions hit last March.

Some had the infrastructure ready to go before the pandemic hit, but others had to learn on the fly.

Now the once-frustrating technology is essential as churches rebound.

“Praise god, New Hope. We are thankful for this wonderful worship experience we shared together today,” Rev. Eugene Downing said.

Even on a Friday at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver, Downing wants it to feel more like Sunday.

“The last year has been both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. It’s exhausting because, you know, COVID,” Downing said. “The exhilarating part is knowing that God is still active, and God still has a vision for us.”

Like most churches in Colorado, New Hope asked its eldest members to stay home in mid-march 2020.

“We really think you should stay home this week. We’re not sure what’s going on yet. We hope to figure it out in a couple of weeks,” Downing said, recalling the beginning of the pandemic.

The church began live streaming its Sunday service for the first time.

“And let me tell you, man, it was rough,” Downing said. “That first week, we didn’t have cameras — we had a laptop pointed down toward the pulpit,” Downing said with a laugh.

Hundreds of church members tuned in to those early live streams. As the weeks and months flew by, those dedicated followers learned how to Zoom and Facebook Live with Gen Z and the millennials.

“I hate to say it, but names are generational. So, when they see Clara typing in ‘praise God,’ they’re like ‘wow,’ you know what I mean?” Downing said. “It connects with people. It really does.”

“I’m proud of my church,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

Hancock is a deacon at New Hope. He’s worked alongside Downing to lift up the community.

“He provided me a list of church members — some who had been, you know, contracted the virus, some who’d been through some difficult times,” Hancock said. “And so one evening, I sat down, and I just called all of them. And I said, ‘This is Deacon Michael Hancock.”

“When this need emerged, people stepped in, man,” Downing said. “We’ve been extraordinarily blessed by some folks in this congregation who have some real gifts and abilities… Who when a need emerged, they stepped right up.”

“I thank God, New Hope family, for another powerful experience and worship together,” Downing said. “We are thankful today.”