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Love is everywhere in our churches

Churches continue to feed the hungry

This is the second in a series of reflections by District Superintendents of The Michigan Conference on life and faith during the COVID-19 era. The Rev. Dr. Margie Crawford shares how God’s love is at work in churches of the Midwest District.


MARGIE R. CRAWFORD

Superintendent, Midwest District

Woman with mask greeting worshipers
Greeters during the COVID era have taken on new duties that have helped ensure the safety of the congregation. This Cornerstone Church volunteer provides a friendly welcome. ~ Facebook/Cornerstone Church

Early in 2020, I knew no one who was sick. My sister and niece are doctors who were called to work with patients entering their hospitals with a positive COVID diagnosis. The hospitals where they worked were facing the same shortage of personal protection equipment that was unfolding across the nation. I prayed for them and their colleagues as they shared what it was like to be with COVID patients. As the numbers of infected persons declined, I was able to breathe a sigh as the risk and demand they were experiencing went back to a manageable level. Not gone, but easier to care for patients.

Since September, I have known more and more people who have not only gotten the virus but have not survived it. The list continues to grow as I receive news of Midwest District persons who must quarantine, isolate, or be rushed to the hospital. And as we enter the new year, I grieve all who have died from this virus, which seems to be getting stronger rather than weaker. 

These are the faces that come to my mind when I think about the pandemic among those in my care …

I think of those who were chaplains as the pandemic began. These are the persons who were on the front line. Some have been the only person holding the hand of someone who was sick or dying. Theirs was the only voice of comfort and the one that lifted someone’s name in prayer. 

I think of the calls I’ve received from pastors in the District informing me that a congregant or family member has tested positive. In March and April, we all learned what our physicians and health department required if we were exposed to the virus. The guidelines and precautions were new. Now, most of us know the routine. 

I think of the names of those who died from the virus.  Gone too soon is all that I keep thinking. Two nursing home residents, the parents, and siblings of long-time congregants, even the son of a friend who I thought was too young to lose his life to COVID. 

I also think about the people who are unable to attend church anymore. They don’t have computers in their homes, and even if they did, they aren’t sure how to connect with the internet. The visit with the pastor in their living room is gone. Their relationship with their church family has gone dormant, or perhaps even silent. Conversations on the phone aren’t the same as having the pastor show up on their doorstep, share a conversation, and offer Communion.

Congregations on my district have struggled with the realities of COVID-19 in these ways …

We miss the hugs, the greetings, and the times when we are together praising God, catching up on what’s been happening with our families, and seeing each other at church. 

Coffee and snacks over a conversation about the worship service that just happened or the mission project that’s about to begin are among the things that have been placed on hold. That is the most current theme I hear. “We had plans to do … but now, they are on hold. We were making a difference by inviting people to be part of … but now, that’s on hold.”

Giving has held steady in most churches, but people are hungry to be about fulfilling the Lord’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ through their faith communities. Project plans and ideas are happening all the time, some in response to COVID, but many more existed before. This is a time for visioning and planning so that when we are able to begin once again, we can be ready. 

Technology, technology, technology. Most churches were asked to provide an online worship connection with members sooner than planned. Pastors and worship leaders needed to learn a new language and develop new skills in order to create a holy internet space. The churches that worked to have an online presence were able to quickly accomplish the task within one or two Sundays of the initial shutdown in March.

Congregations on my district have been able to remain connected with each other and their communities in these new ways …

This has been a time of innovation. What began as a Sunday worship service, available via Zoom, Facebook, and other internet platforms, has expanded into Bible Studies, devotions, and Fellowship Hour. 

Notes, cards, and letters have been sent to those unable or unwilling to travel outside the home. Drive-by caravans have been one way that many churches have shown their support of those who are part of their spiritual family. Pastors are utilizing phone calls as a way of reaching out to members and congregants regularly. 

Communion in my car. On Worldwide Communion Sunday, I sat in the parking lot of a church, along with over 100 people in their cars.  Listening to a broadcast of the service on my car radio and watching two pastors share a special service was heartwarming and spiritually fulfilling.  God was with us as we socially distanced and became a parking lot Christian community simultaneously.

Testimonies.  Many online worship services offer a time of witness from one of the congregants. I remember a Mother’s Day conversation with three different women. What they shared ranged from the decision to make face masks, turning a knitting craft room into a sewing area to what it’s like to transition from dine-in to carryout meals to feed those who are hungry. They talked about focusing on God’s message, whether gathering in the same space or viewing from living rooms.

Churches took sacraments to the great outdoors
Traditions and routines have been interrupted by COVID-19 since March of 2020. Still, churches have moved forward making disciples and transforming the world. A baptism takes place under the trees instead of the sanctuary of Grand Rapids First UMC. ~ Facebook photo/First United Methodist Church Grand Rapids, MI

Here’s where I’ve seen God in the midst of the pandemic on my district …

God’s love is everywhere. I believe we are realizing afresh how deep our relationships with our Lord and with one another are. There is a renewed emphasis on reaching out to one another.  Many churches have created connection groups. New relationships have been created, and current relationships have grown deeper as congregants call each other to make sure others are doing alright. 

We are not alone. Pastors and congregants are helping one another be the church and do church in new ways. Online worship services are as inspirational as in-person services have been. God still moves in all of us. Many faith communities, especially as the pandemic hit, worked together to have combined services. Pastors have been a resource for one another; those who have technological skills and knowledge helping those who need more training and assistance. Pastors are speaking with pastors of different denominations to identify the needs of people living in the cities and towns they serve.

God is making all things new. I am excited about the new mission fields which we have discovered. Many pastors and church leaders are not talking about what will happen when we all go back to in-person worship. Many are asking how to improve the church’s online presence once in-person worship begins again. New missions are being planned to support those who attend worship, whether online or in-person. Food pantries, thrift stores, and meals hosted by the church will continue to be one way our faith communities support persons in need. Support for front line workers is greater now than ever before, with some churches providing a meal, snack, or gift bag for those working in their local hospitals. Many faith communities are planning ministries for those who attend in person AND online rather than one or the other. 

Our Lord is with us on this journey.  And Amen.