By LEE J. KAHRS
PITTSFORD/PROCTOR — The Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church is homeless at the moment, and Pastor Joel Tate said the pandemic has put finding a new space in limbo.
For the past five years, the church leased a building on Gecha Lane in Pittsford, but Tate said after the pandemic hit in March, he suspended in-person worship at the church and moved to live streaming services online. They gave up the building at the end of April.
“We felt like good stewardship required us to do that because we didn’t know when we would use the building fully again,” Tate said. “We were in a month-to-month lease and this pandemic seemed like an off-ramp.”
The church continues to live stream services each Sunday at 9 a.m. on YouTube and its Facebook page. However, as pandemic restrictions have eased in recent weeks, in-person services in outdoor locations have been held with a limited number of attendees.
“We take all the precautions — masks, social distancing, gathering information for content tracing,” Tate said, adding that the church’s venues have included “a large garage, a funeral home, and a tent in the backyard.”
Last Sunday, Tate led a service outdoors at the Pittsford Recreation Area and performed six baptisms in the town pool for a group of about 50 church members.
On July 13, the Proctor Select Board approved permits allowing the church to use the Proctor Skating Rink each Sunday through Aug. 30. Tate said the church will erect a tent on the Sundays it uses the rink and services are weather-dependent. The church will not be at the rink on July 26 or Aug. 2.
“The only way to know where we will be for sure is to check the website,” he said.
HOME ON HOLD
Tate said the church is interested in buying a building at some point, but that is not an immediate concern given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and how long it will last.
“We’ve been looking, but we don’t feel desperate to find a place right now because it could be for a long time that attendees may be attending from home,” he said. “We’re definitely looking and if the right opportunity came up, we’d take it, but there are so many unknowns, it would be premature to buy or lease anything right now.”
Tate said he has given away two earlier church buildings, the first in North Chittenden years ago and the second in Forestdale in 2019. Furnace Brook shared the church in Forestdale and held services both there and in Pittsford, but at the end of last year broke away and gave the Forestdale building to the Forestdale Community Church, formerly the Forestdale Wesleyan Church.
Before the pandemic, Tate said he served a congregation of roughly 140 people. Now, with live streaming, it’s impossible to know how many people the church is reaching each Sunday.
“Some people are still with us, some people have pulled away, and some people say they won’t be back until there’s a vaccine,” he said. “With the live stream, you can see views, but you don’t know how many people are planning to watch it later, if there are whole families watching together, etc.”
But even if the church finds another brick and mortar home, Tate said live streaming is here to stay.
“Live streaming will always be part of what we do now,” he said. “It’s how we can reach shut ins, and folks from out of state.”
That said, Tate said he wants a physical church again someday.
“We’re not content to just be an online church,” he said. “We need a physical location and dimension to a church. There are a lot of people who really miss the physical going to church and being part of a crowd, and I do, too. There’s a sense of energy and momentum that comes with that and we’re really missing that.”
Tate was asked if there was anything else he wanted to say, and he paused.
“I’m feeling positive,” he said. “It’s going to be OK.”
Note: To access the live stream for the weekly Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church service at 9 a.m. each Sunday, search the church on YouTube, or visit the church’s Facebook page. For more information, visit the website, www.furnacebrook.org.