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Sunday revival: Vaccines help church hold in-person Easter service after more than a year away

JANESVILLE It was a sound more felt in the bones than heard. The power of 70 voices in synchronization behind cloth face masks, almost humming, chanting the Lord’s Prayer in unison on Easter Sunday at Asbury United Methodist Church in Janesville. A cosmic rumble, like a tireless engine coming back to life. The church congregation, praying, reunited under one roof. For the first time in 55 weeks—more than a solid year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—the small church on the city’s south side met in the stone and wood sanctuary for a regular, inside, in-person service. At Asbury, 92% of church members reported in a church survey they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. The inoculation is why the church’s spiritual leader, Pastor Will Jewson, said Asbury decided to end a more than yearlong church quarantine and reopen a sanctuary that has been shuttered months except for virtual services. Jewson, who hand writes his sermons in manuscript form, for months has mailed his weekly sermons to some members who’ve been shut in with no internet. After long consultation with the church’s conference and a balancing test of Methodist church founder John Wesley’s three axioms: “Do no harm; do good; stay in love with God,” Jewson decided his church needed to get back to meeting in person for Sunday services. A few days prior, Jewson talked with The Gazette. “We’re trying to take one more step at a time back toward a bit of normalcy. I think if I can describe it in any way, it’s a feeling of relief. I hope that’s what people feel,” he said. Jewson started the service by telling his parishioners, a group collectively tilting toward old age, something he’d waited more than year to say. He’d rehearsed it in his head over and over the night before, but for a moment on Easter Sunday, his voice trembled like the candle flames atop the votives perched along the sanctuary walls. “Welcome home,” Jewson told the congregation, his face among the only not covered by a cloth mask. Jewson’s voice echoed through the church’s loudspeakers and out toward the pews where the church members sat, separated in familial groups and cordoned from each other by blue tape affixed to parts of the seating where social distance commandments bid that no one there may sit. Carolyn Schultz, Asbury’s organist, pedaled and knuckled out the reedy yet room-filling strains on the church’s pipe organ while spring sunshine brought to life the twin mosaic stained glass windows that stood as columns of glowing light and color behind the altar. A cross stood on the altar with a muslin cloth draped over its crossbeam, a symbol of the resurrection. Jewson, in a white shirt and black slacks and wearing a microphone headset, moved quickly through a truncated service. He told The Gazette earlier in the week he’d planned to keep the service close to 30 minutes to limit the duration of the gathering during the lingering pandemic. Ultimately, Jewson made it through in 35 minutes. But he had a lot to say to his people, some who sat in large, yellow Easter hats, stubborn tradition offset only by face coverings that shielded the members’ features. When the congregation took and ate their unleavened communion wafers, the bread still turned to a familiar, flavorless paste on the tongue. The wine was still sweet, the prayer still comforting. Jewson told his parishioners he knew they were smiling behind their masks. He could feel it. The 55 weeks in isolation were over, although vestiges remain. It might be a while before Jewson feels it’s safe enough for the congregation to break into lung-exhaling song from their pews. Just not this Sunday. Instead of singing, Jewson, who doubles as a trumpet player, along with parishioner/saxophonist Connie Nelson and Wendy Anderson-Markow, the church’s drummer, played a warm, instrumental jazz arrangement of hymns, including “The Old Rugged Cross.” An unorthodox delivery, but church music still, and the hymns unfolded like a white lily, fragile but familiar as greening grass, blue sky and the spring flowers planted once again in the urns out front of Asbury church. “Hum along,” Jewson told the congregation. “As long as you do it from behind your masks.” Jewson’s sermon title was Easter-themed but tailored, too, to reflect the long waiting of a church whose members have stayed connected through spirit and the internet, keeping the church afloat from isolation afar. He called the sermon on Sunday “the Resurrection and the Reunion.” Asbury church elder Claude Eakins had spent some time the prior week vacuuming and sprucing up the long-idled church sanctuary. He told The Gazette last week he has missed going to church in person. He would read a mailed copy of Jewson’s sermons every week because he doesn’t have a computer. He said he couldn’t wait to be back in the church pew come Sunday. “This last year, we’ve been alone, not around many people. You do what you have to do to stay safe,” Eakins said. “Time in life can go by fast, but some of these days have really gone slow.” On Sunday, the 35 minute service raced with wings on. Then Jewson dismissed members row-by-row. He urged them to visit if they liked but asked them to please do so outside in front of the church, where the warm breezy air along Kellogg Avenue might carry away more than human worries. Eakins walked out of the sanctuary Sunday morning floating on a smile big enough that it creased the cloth mask covering his face. “I feel so proud today,” Eakins said. “And it’s proud for this church and all of these people.”

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Tuesday's vote: What you need to know

Who should run the state’s education department?

Should we allow all-terrain vehicles on rural roads?

Who will represent us in our local governments?

Those questions will be decided by the relatively few who turn out for the annual nonpartisan spring election Tuesday.

Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said it’s hard to predict turnout this time around, but she ventured a guess of 30% of eligible county voters.

One wild card is the statewide race for superintendent of public instruction. Democratic and Republican party organizations have been promoting their favorites in the race, which could mobilize partisan voters.

Another question is how many people will turn out in Orfordville and the towns of Avon, Center, Plymouth and Union for advisory referendums regarding ATVs and UTVs on rural roads.

The ATV vote won’t decide the issue, but it will tell local governing boards what their residents think.

And there are contested races for city councils, school boards and town and village boards. To see what’s on your ballot, go online to myvote.wi.gov.

Another question mark Tuesday will be the effect of the pandemic.

“I’m seeing more people turning to in-person voting as they feel more comfortable,” Tollefson said, noting the increasing numbers of local residents who have begun their coronavirus vaccinations.

Masks are not required to vote, but they are encouraged.

Polling places will use COVID-19 precautions similar to those in place since last April, such as 6 feet of spacing, plexiglass shields and frequent cleaning.

Other details:

  • Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. statewide.
  • The MyVote website will let you know if you’re registered to vote. If you’re not, you can register at the polls Tuesday with proof of residence.
  • Everyone needs a photo ID to vote. Those using drivers’ licenses, state IDs or passports can use expired copies of those documents, but only if they expired after Nov. 3, Tollefson said.
  • Janesville will continue to use just four polling places: the Rock County Job Center, the former Sears store at Uptown Janesville, City Hall and the Hedberg Public Library.
  • For information you can’t find at myvote.wi.gov, contact your town, village or city clerk.

Obituaries and death notices for April 5, 2021

George L. Brandeen

Dale Lee Burkett

Pastor James Hendrikson

Robert W. Hiller Sr.

Robert E. Kleinsmith

Elaine A. (Pedretti) Kubiak

Lisa M. Marko

Lisa Mayfield

Lois Ruth Neher

Raymond Patrick “Ray” O’Leary

Earlene M. (Carmin) Olsen

Daniel J. “Dan” Schuler

Stephen A. Sippy

Mildred T. Wedel

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UPDATE: 'We're trying to help,' say Janesville sellers of Delta-8-THC


Hemp 1848 employee Anna Bailey sat at the counter at the Hemp and CBD products shop at Uptown Janesville on Saturday afternoon, stuffing crushed hemp flowers into cone-shaped, prerolled paper joints.

The pungent-smelling hemp flowers had been sprayed with liquid, concentrated Delta-8-THC, a chemical compound that can give those who use it a psychoactive high similar to Delta-9-THC—the high-inducing chemical in marijuana.

The major difference between the sprayed hemp Bailey was packaging up and regular pot is that pot’s active ingredient, Delta-9-THC, is a federal controlled substance that remains illegal to sell, possess and consume in Wisconsin.

But Delta-8-THC—known more informally as “D-8”—is derived from pot’s legal cousin, hemp. That makes D-8-THC legal under a loophole under the 2018 Farm Bill rules that govern the production, sale and use of legal hemp products.

And while experts say D-8 products are a tetrahydrocannabinoid that can deliver a high that’s milder, but similar to regular pot, D-8 is currently lawful to sell, possess and use, officials say.

Some local shops that sell the legal, non-intoxicating, hemp- derived chemical cannibidiol, or CBD, in recent months have added to their shelves a variety of hemp products treated with D-8 concentrates.

The Janesville Police Department in an alert on Friday said some local sellers are advertising D-8 flowers, gummies and concentrates as “legal THC.”

Police are cautioning that some of the new D-8 products have only been on the market a year or two. Some remain largely untested and police say some of the products can have potent intoxicating effects.

Cops also point out that driving intoxicated on any strain of THC, marijuana or not, is unlawful and that some local residents have had “adverse” effects after using D-8 products, including anxiety and nausea.

While marijuana remains illegal under state law, local sellers say the legal cousin to weed, D-8, is seeing dramatic growth in sales in Janesville. Hemp 1848, which operates two stores in Janesville, has been selling D-8 THC products since around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One Hemp 1848 official said the company’s shop at the former Janesville Mall has seen a “200%” jump in sales in D-8 in the last few months.

“They’ve been selling really, really well,” Bailey said, pointing to the D-8 joints as she placed them in a glass jar on the sale counter marked “Prerolls: $15 apiece.”

Police said cannabis with Delta-8-THC is reported to be milder in its effects than Delta-9-THC. But but it is still reported to cause intoxication in users, unlike hemp-based cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not cause intoxication.

And unlike the so-called synthetic cannabinoids, which contain unknown, unregulated chemical compounds that can mimic the intoxicating effects of pot, Delta-8-THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid.

Police said some residents report the products, including gummy candies, vaping oils, chewables and leaves, have “extremely high concentrations of Delta-8-THC that can lead to adverse health effects and impairment.”

Janesville police said it may be legal to sell Delta-8-THC, but consumption can cause impairment, and police suggest that driving under the influence of Delta-8-THC could lead to arrests for intoxicated driving.

Police said blood and urine tests can show the presence of Delta-8-THC.

Josh Fay, a wholesale representative for Hemp 1848 who works at the company’s mall shop and at its other location on East Milwaukee Street in downtown Janesville, and his co-worker Darcy Larum said the products, particularly D-8 THC gummy candies that the store makes and sells, can be potent for those who might be unaccustomed to their psychoactive effects.

Recently, Fay said, police came to Hemp 1848’s shop at the mall because someone had reported they had seen a sign outside the shop that read: “Legal THC.” Fay said police said the person had assumed the shop was selling pot.

Fay said he showed police lab documents along with legal paperwork he keeps on file to show all the varieties of D-8 he sells are lumped together in the same classification as legal hemp products.

Fay adds concentrated, liquid D-8-THC to some hemp products he sells in a proportion that he said can deliver a psychoactive effect that’s about “90%” as potent as regular pot, depending on how large a dose of the products people use.

Hemp 1848’s D-8 products come with a stickers about advised doses and the possible intoxicating effects of the products. The packaging also has QR code stickers that police can scan electronically to reference information from the labs that produced the D-8.

One of Hemp 1848’s products, lime-flavored D-8-THC gummies, is advertised as having 100 milligrams of D-8. The labeling on the package suggests people consume just one gummy and be prepared for effects that could take a few hours to peak and then linger for six to eight hours.

Fay said he and other Hemp 1848 employees caution those who buy D-8 products that they should be careful of intoxicating effects, and he cautions them not to drive after they’ve used the products.

Larum, whose title with Hemp 1848 is “cannabis specialist,” said she works with customers to determine what products they might want. She said some customers are recreational cannabis users, but many others are people who are looking for relief from seizure disorders, chronic pain, anxiety and other long-term illnesses.

“I talk to every customer about what their issues are, and I try to find out which product might be right for them. It may not be Delta-8-THC. It might be pure CBD oil,” Larum said. “You know, it’s not about everybody’s going to go and get high. It’s more about wellness. We’re trying to help people.”