By Richard Rourk
Area churches have been busy and creative finding ways to reach out to their congregations during COVID-19.
First Baptist Church of Erwin has cancelled all church activities.
“As of today, we have cancelled all church activities until further notice,” Pastor Dr. Koby Strawser said. “We are providing virtual services on our Facebook page, First Baptist Church of Erwin and on our YouTube channel (a link to the channel may be found on the Facebook page.) In addition to Wednesday evening and Sunday morning virtual services, we are providing daily morning devotionals and afternoon children’s sermons. All of this content can be found on the Facebook page and YouTube channel. For those who do not have access to the Internet, we have audio CDs available.”
According to Calvary Baptist Church Senior Pastor David Crutchfield, utilizing technology to relay the church’s word has become the norm.
“Along with just about every church in the United States, we have moved our services on live stream via Facebook,” Crutchfield said. “On top of the live services, there are text, emails and phone calls. There have been minimal to almost no visits, which as a pastor, I have found to be very difficult.”
First Christian Church Senior Minister Todd Edmondson acknowledged that COVID-19 has made the church adapt quickly to reach their congregation.
“Some of the biggest changes have involved re-thinking what it means to gather as the church,” Edmondson said. “So much of what we do involves being together, for fellowship meals, for Bible studies, for times of prayer and worship. When those opportunities are taken away so suddenly, churches have to reconfigure our times together. We’ve moved our worship time online, and are enjoying the time we can spend there, but also lamenting what is lost when we can’t actually be in one another’s presence. These are changes that we first instituted on March 15, when it started to become evident that social distancing was a good idea, and we’ve currently made the decision to commit to these policies until at least the end of April, after which we will extend our practice of social distancing, if it seems prudent to do so.”
For Edmondson, it’s times like these that it’s crucial for the church to reach out to the community in any way possible.
“While it has always been important for the church to maintain contact and communication with one another as a regular practice, these times have clarified that purpose all the more,” Edmondson said. “We are making special efforts to remain in touch with members of our congregation whom we don’t get to see as regularly as we used to. We’re checking in regularly especially with those who may be more vulnerable at this time to see how we can help with basic needs. We’ve also tried to reach out midweek with devotionals, scavenger hunt activities for kids, online discussions for our youth and other ways that we can target more direct conversation with those who are stuck at home.”
North Ridge Community Church has taken to Facebook to conduct services during this time. There are numerous posts on their Facebook page and North Ridge is asking that their members interact through social media during this time.
One area church is looking to serve their congregation in a unique way. Fishery Community Church has had drive-in services for some time, but due to COVID-19, they are extending those services.
The Fishery Community Church will be having two drive-in services. One at 9:30 a.m. and one at 10:45 a.m.
“There is live music and preaching that you enjoy from your car,” Pastor Art Gibson said. “You tune in to our low power FM broadcast from your car radio, and I will be ministering from our outdoor chapel.”
With the closures and alterations, local pastors have gotten crafty in the way they reach out to their congregations. For most, this means reaching out online. Noah Taylor of Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church confirmed that all services have been moved to online services.
“The church has had to make huge changes in the way that we do ministry,” Taylor said. “We, like many churches, employ certain methods to accomplish our mission. The current situation has caused us to change our methods, but our mission remains the same. One of the more substantial changes include how we conduct our worship services which has been completely online. These services include music, preaching, an opportunity to give, and even the opportunity to interact with other members through comments. It’s been a good opportunity to grow in this area, and we are reaching people with our services that we otherwise would not have been able to.”
Taylor explained that he realizes it is difficult for everyone to join in online, so he and his staff are reaching out the best way they can.
“We are using a multitude of ways to stay connected to our church family,” Taylor said. “We do this through calls, texts, social media, and even good old fashion mail. Due to the varying ages and generations that exist in our church, it is essential that we utilize the correct tools to communicate with them and do our part to ensure that their needs are being met.”
For Taylor it is important to reach out to everyone during these times.
“We have worked to make ourselves available to the public and provide resources for adults and kids alike while they are at home,” Taylor said. “We do this through providing online content as well as an ongoing opportunity to submit prayer requests through our website at churchatevergreen.com. “
Centenary United Methodist Church has also taken to online services for their congregation and the general public to follow along with.
“We are recording services and posting on Facebook. Pastor Kim (Isley) is constantly calling and checking on members’ wellbeing,” Centenary United Methodist Church Administrative Assistant Jessica Casey said. “Our Facebook page is public; anyone can go and watch our message.”
Aaron McLain, pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church, has had to adjust to the way he handles service at his church.
“We’ve begun meeting in the parking lot,” McLain said. “The congregants park and the service is held under the awning in front of the church as they sit inside their vehicles. The service is live streamed over YouTube for those who prefer not to leave their homes. Those services can also be accessed on our website at lbcunicoi.com.”
McLain did confirm that due to the restrictions caused by COVID-19, that Lighthouse Baptist Church vans will no longer be running.
“We are no longer running our vans to pick up kids to bring to church, but we are taking meals to them on Wednesday evenings,” McLain said. “We also have a food pantry at the church available to the community.”
Like McLain, many area pastors are still finding ways to reach out to the community and help. “As you can imagine, because of the stay at home orders, we are limited in what we can do, but we have made our staff available to our community to meet any needs that arise,” Taylor said. “We are also a distribution site for Harvest Food Bank, and we continue to provide help through our food benevolence program.”
Edmondson confirmed that First Christian Church is looking at different ways to help the community during this crisis.
“While this is normally a time of year when we have a lot of involvement with the community, due to Easter events, that’s been changed, so we’re having to do more to engage with people online,” Edmondson said. “We try to be encouraging through our social media presence, as well as taking calls and messages from people in need or encouragement. It’s been really difficult to give up our usual events, but we believe that God can use us to demonstrate Christ’s love to our neighbors even in this difficult time.”
First Christian Church continues to encourage their members to continue to reach out to the community and help as they can.
“This has been hard because so many of the things we’ve been used to doing, like community meals for our neighborhood, our involvement with ministries like Good Samaritan and Family Promise, have been effectively halted by this crisis,” Edmondson said. “It makes it difficult to orchestrate an organized or substantial, hands-on effort. Nevertheless, as needs persist, we’re simply encouraging our members to help where they can. Find ways to volunteer. Find causes to donate toward. We’re still collecting applications for our Summer Food Program, a ministry that we have participated in for the past decade. We don’t quite know how this situation will affect that ministry, but we’re going to be thinking about how to respond to this continuing need.”
At Calvary Baptist Church, providing meals to those in need is a great way to help during the pandemic.
“Since the stay at home (order) has been implemented we have had one drive-thru meal service,” Crutchfield said. “There was a great turnout; over 200 meals were given through the make-shift drive-thru prepared by our own culinary cook. Heather (Ricker) and her team did an extraordinary job in the ministry of comfort food. We are planning another drive-thru meal, but the date has not been set as of yet.”
According to Taylor, it is important to provide comfort for all citizens, not just the congregation at Evergreen Freewill Baptist.
“My message of hope would be found in the promise that Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever,” Taylor said. “He promises that in difficult times he will act as a refuge and place of strength for those that put their faith in him. The Bible promises Christ to be ‘a very present help in trouble.’ We have purposely tried to preach messages of hope and perspective. We believe that it is a time for believers to shine because we possess a hope that is unique to believers. We believe that same hope is available to all who trust Christ. We’ve spoken about peace, the help that comes from the Lord, and power that we have within us to overcome fear.”
To learn more about other area churches, their service schedule and how they are reaching out to the community during COVID-19, please follow them on Facebook or check out their websites for content.