Sunday was the first day of Lent at St. James Episocopal Church and it was as packed as it was purple.
“What a crowd. We haven’t had this many people here in almost a year,” said the Rector Robert Iler after giving his sermon. “We are only 8 or 10 people away from maximum occupancy.”
It had been nine weeks since Iler ministered to a crowd from the pulpit. The Diocese of Alabama had suspended in person worship the Sunday before Christmas as COVID-19 cases and deaths surged.
Recently, his clergy has included two cell phones and a tablet which stream to numerous parishioners on Facebook.
“I had to get used to speaking to the camera,” Iler said. “I realized that there were more people watching online than in person”
This is one of many changes the church made to continue service during the pandemic.
The sign of peace has become a peace sign. No hand shaking outside of your family group. Roped off pews help to maintain social distancing. Bottles of hand sanitizer are scattered around the stained-glass windowed church.
Even to the most holy sacrament of Christian faiths, the Eucharist, was adjusted. Instead of taking the sacramental wine from a communal chalice, as was commonplace pre-COVID, wine is distributed in disposable communion cups.
“I don’t think people will ever go back to a chalice,” Iler said. “We use a higher proof wine made for communion. It’s about 14% alcohol. So there is some sanitization there. I haven’t heard of anyone getting sick from communion. Despite that, people won’t want to share a chalice in a post-COVID world.”