Churches meet challenges of unprecedented crisis
Churches have been faced with an unprecedented crisis in recent months. The ways they have risen to the challenge has been inspiring.
Churches are about bringing people together. But what do you do when bringing people together, physically, is challenging?
Every congregation has its own story. Each church has had to find its own answer. While some denominations have offered guidance and suggestions, a lot had to be figured out in the individual church – finding solutions that fit its particular circumstances, physical setting and congregation:
- The size of the church.
- The physical layout of the building.
- The age and inclinations of the membership.
All of these things played a role in causing different approaches to arise in different churches.
Here is what some of our policyholders did and how it worked for them.
Silas United Methodist Church
At Silas United Methodist Church in Eutawville, SC, they weren’t sure what to do when society started shutting down. “It was chaotic at first,” said the Pastor, Reverend Dr. Whittaker Middleton. “We had NO services for a couple of weeks.”
“We felt a loss,” he said. “I felt a mood of grieving,” missing the experience of worshipping with his congregation. “Members felt the same.”
But then, they started presenting live and recorded services on Facebook. They were full but abbreviated services, including a sermon. There was no singing, because there was no choir. “We were trying to involve as few people as we can” to minimize risk, said Reverend Middleton. His wife does the Scripture readings.
He didn’t want to take chances. The experts were “still learning as they go” on the new coronavirus. “I always like to be on the side of caution. That tells me to involve the fewest number of people that I can.”
The online services drew between 40 and 50 people each week. It’s not as many as 90 to 135 that would come to the sanctuary before the crisis, but “It’s growing,” said Dr. Middleton.
Aside from services, meetings were held via Zoom, which he said worked fine as long as everyone had an agenda well in advance.
The online services “really have been a Godsend,” he said, reconnecting him to his flock. And from what he’s heard, the members felt that connection, too.
That includes people who grew up in the Eutawville church, but are now far away. “We’re hearing from people who have moved to other parts of the country, and they’re overjoyed” That includes people from Boston and Miami. “They still call it their church. Some of them are sending money now.”
Old Samaria Baptist Church
Old Samaria Baptist Church in Batesburg, SC, had “normal” services until March 15. Then there was a week with none at all.
But the next week, it set up for a drive-in movie-style service. “We set some speakers up outside, and folks just drove up in their car,” said Pastor Barry Anderson. Everybody was able to maintain social distance “in the comfort and safety of their car.”
It worked great. In fact, this drew larger congregations than usual.
“It you look up ‘small church’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Old Samaria,” said Reverend Anderson. Most services in the sanctuary itself used to draw only about 18 people. Attendance averaged 22 at the drive-up services. “One Sunday, we had folks from six other churches – ones that were not having any kind of services.”
An elderly lady who lives just down the street told Anderson “she had been sitting on her front porch and listened to worship.”
Then one week, one of the visitors said “he wouldn’t be back, because his church was going to take the idea.” That was fine with Reverend Anderson, who said he borrowed it from another church, too – one in Mt Airy, NC.
Now services are again held inside – with precautions in place. They are held in the Fellowship Hall rather than the sanctuary because it’s roomier. Chairs are placed about seven feet apart, and attendees are expected to wear masks. Hand sanitizer was placed just inside the entrance.
“This past Sunday we had 26, which is a large number for us,” he said recently.
Safety is important for every church, but especially this one, because “most of the membership is elderly, some with other conditions as well.” Folks were asked “to refrain from hand-shaking and hugging – to greet people from across the way.”
At the same time, “You can only do so much.” Anderson says he has tried throughout the crisis to be respectful of what individual people want.
But most of all, he always asks, “Are we going to do it in a way that honors God?”
Lake Murray Presbyterian Church
Lake Murray Presbyterian Church in Chapin, SC, had already been trying to get set up with Facebook, YouTube and Livestream, before the pandemic started closing churches.
“We got it working just in time,” remembers the Pastor, Dr. Ben Sloan Sr. “We live-streamed our 8:30 service from the sanctuary through all three venues,” he said. The response was extraordinary.
The church also started doing a drive-in service at 10:30. People could stay in their cars and listen in with their car radios as the service was broadcast through an FM transmitter with a range of about 500 feet.
About 220 people participated on Easter through the drive-in service. “We moved it to the lake,” away from the black asphalt when a member offered the use of his land on the water. “Boats can pick it up,” and a few folks participated that way.
On May 26, the church had an in-person gathering at 8:30 – as an alternative to the online experience. “We had about 30,” as opposed to just under 100 back before the crisis. “People were excited.”
“We didn’t sing,” he said, and plenty of precautions were taken. People were checked at the door and asked to wear masks. Some didn’t like that. Rather than passing the plate – there was a collection basket at the door. Parishioners were kept six feet apart, although families could sit together.
The service required a great deal of “extra cleaning before and after,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s exciting, too.”
“There are a lot of spiritual needs out there,” said Dr. Sloan. And his church now has found several new ways of trying to meet them.
As you can see, there are some commonalities in the approaches taken by different congregations, and some big differences. One way in which they are all the same: No one at any of these churches will ever forget what happened during the pandemic of 2020 and how they as communities responded to it.
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