Social distancing leaves Rugby streets quieter

Churches trying to find a way to connect to members

Pastor Elaine Sveet

RUGBY – The bells at St. Therese the Little Flower Catholic Church in Rugby rang as usual to call parishioners to Mass one Sunday morning in late March, but no cars rumbled into the gravel parking lot.

An hour later, at the scheduled time for worship services, the parking lot was empty at Rugby’s First Lutheran Church.

The scene was much the same at churches all over Pierce County, the United States and throughout the world.

Later that day, a second positive test result for coronavirus in Pierce County would be announced by Rugby’s Heart of America Medical Center (HAMC), two days after officials announced Pierce County’s first case, a female in her 40s who had traveled.

The second case was a male in his 40s who had “close contact” with the patient, HAMC said.

Streets stayed quiet except for a few exercisers who strolled on sidewalks here and there, keeping a distance from one another but waving and shouting “hello” just the same.

Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Health issued guidelines placing restrictions on unnecessary travel and social gatherings of more than 10 people. The agencies recommended “social distancing,” or staying at least six feet apart from non-family members. It also recommended waving instead of shaking hands and frequent hand washing, especially after touching surfaces commonly touched by the public.

Most Rugby businesses were closed except for a few grocery and home supply retailers and customers asked clerks when truck deliveries would come in to replenish depleted shelves.

First Lutheran Church Pastor Elaine Sveet said social isolation can cause people to drift apart, leaving them vulnerable to loneliness.

“Trying to find the ways you can connect even in the midst of this is really important,” Sveet said. “So phone calls are something you can do, even if it’s every day that you’re going to call and check in with someone. If you’re connected with a church family, it seems that all of our churches are connected online in the community so try to connect to that.”

“In our church,” Sveet said, “We’re doing a pen pal program between our Sunday school kids and some of the older members of our congregation so that every week they’ll write a letter.”

“We say, ‘Wash your hands before you write the letter. When you send it, don’t lick the back of the envelope to seal it but use a sticker or tape.’ Then we’ll have that bit of mail going back and forth,” Sveet added.

“So we hope that’s a good opportunity for our kids to practice their handwriting and really just to talk about their day, what they’re doing and how they’re feeling and then to be able to build some new relationships with people in the church. We hope it will help us do that connecting,” Sveet said.

“I also have an online ministry that’s separate from First Lutheran that I started in the spring,” Sveet noted. “We do daily morning devotions in that group on Facebook Live. They’re called, ‘Chasing Abundant Life.’ We have over 500 members. They cover five different countries.”

“It’s a 15-20 minute devotion with stories from everyday life, a daily question, scripture and prayer. It’s really been building a nice community. We even started in the season of Lent, leading up to Easter, doing a prayer partner piece. So I do a daily prompt and you have a partner that you’re praying for and you know they’re praying for you,” Sveet explained.

“So we’re trying to do some of those different things and do them creatively,” Sveet noted. “I know Pastor Sharon (Baker) and myself are trying to call some members of the church everyday so we can reach out and do that connecting. Pastor Sharon was sharing with me today that she’s been surprised how much people want to talk and how really it’s a listening exercise for us pastors because people want to share and want to connect so, we’re trying to help people not feel so alone.”

“I think there are a lot of opportunities and a lot of it is online but with a simple cell phone you can really be connected to the world now,” Sveet added.

In an emailed statement to the Tribune, Darcie Rose of Heart of America Medical Center offered reassurance to residents seeking ways to fight the coronavirus.

“Social distancing of course is our biggest message to get out to individuals, doing so will continue to flatten the curve,” Rose wrote. “Residents need to realize the importance of staying home. If you are not feeling well, call your local healthcare facility first to go over symptoms that you feel could be related to COVID-19 or using tools such as eVisit which is available on the HAMC website.”

Rose also said HAMC just set up a dedicated phone line for COVID-19 symptoms. That number is 701-776-5455 ext. 2263. These calls will be answered by a nurse and will be available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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