The First Presbyterian Church of Independence will sit empty Sunday as the Rev. Dave Carlson conducts his regular service.


With some technological assistance, Carlson won’t be alone.


"The option was whether to do a video streaming of me preaching in an empty sanctuary or me being in front of an online video conferencing setup and having everyone else’s voices and faces a part of that experience," Carlson said. "And that’s what we opted for."


Carlson, the pastor for the church not far from the Independence Square, wanted to find a way to keep his congregation together even as they remained apart to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Jackson County has banned gatherings of 10 or more people, with limited exceptions.


Many churches are video streaming their services and have been for some time. Carlson decided to take it one step further: Why not hold an interactive video chat?


On Sunday, Carlson will use Zoom, a video conference-hosting platform, to gather his flock for a Video Online Worship, or VOW. Members will get an email invitation to join in. Once they do, they will get to see and interact with each other "Brady Bunch style" as well as Carlson. Zoom will also allow worshipers to set up chat rooms for prayer requests or fellowship.


"I won’t have a typical sermon, but I will have times of Scripture and reflection that may be even more interactive than a typical sermon would be," Carlson said. "And that may be a good thing. We may grow as a worshiping congregation through this experience."


Carlson, who normally has around 100 show up on Sundays, said it was important to him to find a way to keep his congregation connected when they couldn’t gather as one. Presbyterian USA, the church’s national organization, left it up to local councils whether to hold services or not; First Presbyterian opted to cancel all activities with 10 or more through April 1 and 50 or more through May 10 including all Easter services.


Carlson and other church leaders spent three days setting up and learning how to use the system. After a trial run Tuesday, he believes he’s good to go.


"We’re doing this because we know and live out the fact that the church building is not the church," Carlson said. "We, the people of God, are called to gather at this community of faith and welcome others to join us. That is the church. And we can do that in whatever way possible under whatever restrictions might come our way."


Other denominations are reaching out online as well. The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is encouraging church members to help its clergy live stream masses. The diocese announced Monday that public masses, as well as weddings or any other large gatherings, will be suspended until April 3.


Timothy Lutheran Church in Blue Springs plans to hold online services at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 9:30 a.m. Sundays via Facebook and YouTube. All activities at the church have been canceled through the end of March.


Northern Boulevard United Methodist Church in Independence has had to cancel events too. But the Rev. Sarah Wemberley is determined to keep one event going – the church’s Project Supper Time Food Pantry.


The pantry – open from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursdays – will operate as a drive-through. Volunteers will deliver food right to the cars; walkups will be accommodated too.


"We felt like there were too many people in need right now not to take a chance," said Wemberley, whose pantry feeds more than 60 people a week. "We don’t plan to quit until we get ordered to."


Northern Boulevard will also have online services, Wemberley said. She also wants to pass the plate online too.


"The younger people are good at giving online, but older people do not give if they’re not there in person," Wemberley said. "If they don’t give, we go down pretty quick."


The Community of Christ announced last Friday that its churches will suspend all group activities for the next three weeks. All World Church sites are closed to the public and all World Church sponsored events are canceled through April 13.


The Rev. Kenneth McClain, presiding pastor of the Stone Church in Independence, has suspended the Wednesday dinners the church holds with the Community Services League for those needing a meal and is handing out sack lunches instead.


And while other Community of Christ churches offer online services, McClain has opted not to do so. He said his church will have office staff on hand for anyone to call in and will continue individual ministries where it can.


"Our congregation is mainly seniors without as much aptitude in technology as some of the younger congregations," McClain said. "It’s even further a problem because they’re at the greatest risk so you can’t convene them without running a risk. We pretty much decided safe is better than sorry in regard to any attempts to gather."