The season of Lent began Feb. 26 with Ash Wednesday, and it has been the same tortuous road for the Christian community as it has for everyone else to get to Easter.
Lent is the 40-day season for Christians to prepare for Easter through prayer for the repentance of sins, doing penance, almsgiving and self-denial. This leads to Holy Week and, finally, the celebration of the resurrection, Easter, the most important day in the liturgical calendar.
Needless to say, for all Christians and everyone else this year has been the season of madness.
Churches in the U.S. and the world are shuttered because of the novel coronavirus, the insidious and unseen new virus that has created a pandemic and warped our sense of community.
Churches in Eugene and Lane County are no different, and First Christian Church — more than a century old and at its Oak Street location since 1911 — has had its own rough time during Lent.
Rev. Dan Bryant’s stellar 29-year run as pastor ends at First Christian with a sermon from his south Eugene home on Easter, April 12, via Zoom. This was not, of course, how the 65-year-old Bryant envisioned ending his pastoral calling when he announced his retirement in December last year.
Yet here he is, like all of us, making do with what he has.
“I have to laugh so as not to cry,” he says in a phone interview from his home after the church was closed. “We always say the church is the people and not the building. Here we go.”
In later emails to Eugene Weekly, Bryant says that the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at First Christian decided on March 12 to close the church to services for two weeks, have a skeletal service in the sanctuary with only essential personnel and suspend the Sunday Interfaith breakfast.
Additionally, Bryant says the committee decided that there would be no breakfast for the homeless on Sunday mornings. This had been, Bryant noted, a popular gathering spot for the homeless, a chance for them to relax.
That particular closure didn’t last long. On the week of March 23 the church fully closed on orders from the denomination, Disciples of Christ, and everyone worked from home. All worship-related activities would be from home, via Zoom.
The breakfast volunteers renamed themselves the “Downtown Food Hub” and, Bryant says, they distributed 250 sack lunches on March 29 — 200 to The Dining Room and 50 to White Bird.
All of this resembled the safety precautions that other churches have implemented.
Then a real-time problem surfaced. On March 28, Lane County Public Health (LCPH) alerted the church and the public that First Christian was a point of possible exposure for the virus following a March 11 Interfaith Prayer Service.
There was no correlation, Bryant says, between that and the church’s closure.
“No,” he says. “Pure coincidence. We learned about it just a couple of hours before it became public.” Everyone at the service has been notified, he adds. LCPH adds that as of press time no new cases have surfaced in connection to that possible exposure.
Bryant began his call at First Christian on March 31, 1991. That was Easter, and now he will preach his final service, on Easter.
His final sermon was supposed to touch upon the road to Emmaus, the Christian story of hope from the Gospel of Luke. It now will be about how the people are the church, especially in a crisis.
Bryant is a little mournful about it. “The sad part is the kids can’t make it,” he says of daughter, Pauline, in Los Angeles and son, Patrick, in Chicago.
He also feels for the First Christian body that wanted to give him a proper sendoff. Through his private work with the congregation and the public work for social justice, Bryant has put First Christian on center stage in the community. The congregation had planned a large farewell party for Bryant, but that’s now on hold, perhaps until summer.
Still, a little humor has shown itself during this tangled season of Lent. When it was announced that the church was closed, Bryant noted to the congregation that he still would be preaching to more than 100 people, from his home, starting March 29.
One older woman, a former member of the church, panicked. A friend had to calm the woman down and explain technology.
There were glitches to the first online home sermon, Bryant says, but he has started to embrace the technology to an extent.
“Now that I am just learning how to do this, I am a bit bummed that I only have two more Sundays [now one] to perfect it,” he says. “C’est la vie!”
Rev. Dan Bryant’s Easter sermon can be viewed via Zoom. It then will be uploaded to YouTube. More information can be found at the First Christian website, HeartOfEugene.org.
Bryant, founder and executive director of Square One Villages, will continue to work with the nonprofit. More information about Square One can be found at SquareOneVillages.org.