The Gales Creek Church of God. File photo taken Sept. 10, 2019 by Chas Hundley

More than ten months have passed since Governor Kate Brown signed the first executive order limiting residents and businesses in Oregon from a number of activities in hopes of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

With the closures, gathering size limits and safety measures for businesses in place, churches and faith-based gatherings have also faced a series of mandates to limit gathering. Presently, under the “Risk and Safety Framework'' enacted by Governor Kate Brown, Washington County is in the “Extreme Risk” category at the top. For churches such as the Gales Creek Community Church of God, that means a recommended cap of 100 people or 25% of the building’s capacity, whichever is smaller. Eating and drinking — except for instances where it’s part of a religious ceremony, such as Communion — during a service is prohibited for counties in the extreme risk category, so Gales Creek’s potlucks held in Gales Creek Church’s Fellowship Hall are nixed for the time being, Gales Creek Church Pastor Tim Townley said in a phone call with the Gales Creek Journal in December. 

The Gales Creek Journal spoke with pastors from both churches in Gales Creek and Hillside to find out how they are handling the restrictions, and how they have weathered the coronavirus. 

Hillside

The last few years have been a time of change for the congregants at Hillside Bible church. Tragedy struck on June 9, 2018 when a fire swept through the historic 134-year-old church and destroyed it. Congregants met first in a tent to worship with plans to build a new church underway. Then, in early 2020, the pandemic forced their church — and others — to shift how they worship. And finally, Tim and Bonnie Gould, who served in the pastoral role at Hillside, retired and moved to Montana. 

In the beginning of December 2020, Interim Associate Pastor John & Kathy Mulvihill from Village Missions took over for the time being.

These days, the church is meeting about ¼ mile away from the former church building where a community member lent the use of their aircraft hanger for the church to use until a new building can be constructed, Pastor John Mulvihill told the Gales Creek Journal. 

With a congregation of about 50, Hillside has tackled social distancing most recently by moving from one service to two services, one at 9 and one at 11:30 a.m.

“The chairs are spread out some, and everyone is wearing masks, except the speaker,” John said. 

A plastic sheet was placed in front of the podium between some of the congregation who were singing a couple of carols before Christmas, John said, with those singing doing so with masks on. 

Hillside also records their services and places them on a Youtube channel for those who can’t be present in person. 

What John described as a “friendly neighbor” roughly ¼ mile down the road from where Hillside Church sat before the fire donated the use of an aircraft hanger for the congregation to use, an upgrade from an outdoor tent the congregation had been temporarily meeting. The hope is to break ground on a new building sometime this year. 

Gales Creek Church

“When [the pandemic] first started, we wanted to be safe, we wanted to be concerned about people contracting the virus and that kind of thing, so probably for the first two or three months, we went to online only, with watching the numbers and such, leadership decided to go ahead and begin meeting in person [around June],” Pastor Tim Townley said.  

Townley said that when the church resumed in-person services, the church began following a number of health and safety guidelines, including mask-wearing and sanitization. 

“We do have an older congregation, and obviously, in the midst of our congregation, we have those that are super leery and then of course, others who think this is not nearly as bad as they say it is. With that said, we still decided to go ahead and meet. We just asked that everyone wear a mask. Everyone’s been following that for the most part as well.” 

The church meets at 9 am for Sunday school, and holds a worship service at 10:45 a.m. every Sunday in downtown Gales Creek, with live streams on the church Facebook page and Townley’s personal Facebook page. 

Food and clothes closets 

Gleaners is on a hiatus while the church works through paperwork issues with the store where food is picked up to make sure their 501(c)3 status is in order. 

“Once we get that worked out, we’ll have it going again, but it’s been going good and strong, more and more people are coming down for food which is a really good thing.”

Townley noted that the church is also working to get the food closet back to full operation, but that those in need of food should call the church to arrange something. 

Similarly, the church is still taking donations of coats and blankets for families in need of those essential items. 

In a phone call with Sheri Kehrer Bagdonas, a church volunteer who heads the gleaning program in Gales Creek, said that the program should be back up and running soon and will be held Tuesdays at 112 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

“I don’t want it exclusive just to the church,” Bagdonas said in a phone call with the Gales Creek Journal in January, noting that anyone is welcome once the program is back to show up for groceries. 

Gales Creek’s congregation is split between those who meet in person and those participating in worship online, but the presence in the building is between 25 and 32 people on a Sunday, Townley said. 

“Sometimes, we’ll have anywhere between like 30 to 50 or 60 views online,” Townley said. “So I’m thinking most of our congregation who aren’t able to be there because of the virus or whatever health reasons, they’re watching online.”

“We want to be faithful to scripture and meeting as we need to meet, but also have to pair that with keeping people safe and healthy,” Townley said, “and that’s been a challenge.”

The church has had to cancel the Sunday potluck tradition formerly held in the Fellowship Hall, but has been holding a smaller meal with some church members during a prayer and bible study session on Wednesdays. 

“We want to keep it as normal as possible, but still keep in consideration keeping people healthy and safe.” 

Families in need in the Gales Creek area can call the Gales Creek Church at 503-357-8873, though email is a more reliable method of connecting with church services, at [email protected]ail.com