This time of year is usually one of the busiest times of year for churches. However, their daily operations and atmosphere have significantly changed as parishioners obey stay at home orders. Many churches moved toward digital experiences amid COVID-19 pandemic, while also celebrating religious holidays.
Dior Stewart, a church administrator at Ebenezer Temple Pentecostal Church in Cobbs Creek has played an integral role in their church adjusting to the current changes and unforeseeable future.
“Due to COVID-19, a loud and boisterous waiting area is now silenced,” Stewart said. “And all our Easter programming including the Maundy Thursday play, Good Friday service, and Easter service had to be performed virtually.”
For those who are religious, church is usually a refuge to get through the trials and tribulations of a crisis. The coronavirus outbreak has prevented this in-person fellowship, but church leaders such as Rev. Damaris Walker of Sharswood’s Miller Memorial Baptist Church is working to enrich and support members of his congregation during this difficult time.
“Churches by nature are intimate and rely a lot on affection and checking in on each other,” Walker said. “One of the things we’ve done is move our prayer services and midweek Bible services online.”
For many church leaders, the decision to cancel their in-person service was not an easy decision but one they felt was necessary. Many acknowledge that a relationship with God goes beyond the four walls of the church and prayer and worship can still be maintained at home.
“Though we believe God has the power to heal us from anything, we did not want to be ignorant to the warnings of health officials,” Stewart said. “In order to keep our congregation healthy we decided immediately to figure out alternative ways to have services virtually.”
In order to still be able to spiritually enhance the lives of others, churches have been forced to get creative in the way they reach people. Many churches have switched to online streaming services to spread their message, but it still presents challenges. Ebenezer is relying heavily on technology during this time, meeting daily for prayer via teleconference and on Zoom for Bible study every Wednesday.
Member of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, Mike Thompson is a consistent churchgoer who has attended Easter service with his family since he was a young child. By contrast, this year Thompson watched the sermon online because of social distancing orders.
“I miss the atmosphere, and seeing other people in the community,” Thompson said. “I think that’s one thing we take for granted. Worshipping with others for the same reason to honor God is something special.”
Miller Memorial, Enon, and Ebenezer churches all held virtual services for members to celebrate the holiday in their homes. The goal was to keep people in touch, while also keeping everyone safe. For many churches, making this shift to virtual services has created new challenges.
“Our church has never recorded a virtual service so the entire territory was new for us,” Stewart said. “With any new experiment there is trial and error but we’re tackling the challenge day by day improving to give the best worship experience possible.”
Churches are where many people, especially the elderly, enjoy congregating and getting out of the house. With seniors being one of the communities most at risk of contracting COVID-19, technology allows them to worship while home remaining safe, despite lacking the social aspect of the service.
“My concern is for seniors and people who live alone and church is the center of their social and religious life,” Walker said. “I worry about them being connected, cared for, and looked after. Our church skews older people, so in terms of technology we always have to think about them and make sure they are not left out.”
During services an offering plate is distributed to its members to donate money as a way to give back. The donations are used for various costs to keep the church functioning, such as paying the church staff, utilities, and scholarships. While COVID-19 has impacted the ability to gather and worship, it also has impacted churches financially.
“The virus has affected members in multiple ways,” Stewart said. “First, for our older members, giving via phone/internet presents a challenge for some of them. Also it can be difficult for members whose jobs have been terminated or suspended making it a burden for them to financially contribute.”
Despite the transitions churches are going through due to COVID-19, congregations are faithful they will prevail through this current public health crisis. This year is a special year for Miller Memorial Baptist church as September is the church’s 25th anniversary.
“It has survived the Spanish flu, deaths of pastors, and I don’t doubt it will survive this epidemic as well,” Walker said.
Those in religious communities such as Thompson are keeping their spirits lifted and are pleased the church is doing what it can to people updated on worship opportunities. Although church services are not what Thompson is accustomed to, his faith is allowing him to remain optimistic.
“Keeping your faith strong is especially important right now,” he said. “This is all new to us. Remember faith over fear and what’s in the Scriptures. Always remember to go back and remember who God is. Stay prayed up that this will all be over soon.”
Questions and concern that technology might replace human connections have been discussed for years. However, COVID-19 has proved technology is only a stand-in, at best. During this time of social distancing, many places of worship are learning the power and potential technology has for uniting a congregation.
Words by Cheyenne Dantzler.
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