In midst of crisis, South Georgia congregations get creative to share love of Christ
By Kara Witherow, Editor
The coronavirus pandemic has been called “the most challenging crisis the world has faced since World War II.” COVID-19 has killed more than 70,000 people worldwide and the global health crisis upended lives, caused mass shutdowns of businesses and schools, and churches have been asked to suspend worship services and other gatherings until at least the end of April.
But pastors say this health and human crisis need not be a spiritual crisis.
“When the noise of life is all around us, let us keep our eyes focused on Christ, who rides in not to make an announcement for He is the announcement of God's peace, of God's salvation that has come,” said South Georgia Bishop R. Lawson Bryan.
Across the South Georgia Conference, congregations are employing creative techniques to spread the gospel message. Instead of in-person worship services and small-group gatherings, Facebook, video conferencing, and other means of technology are helping congregants stay connected.
Rev. David Donnan, pastor of Twin City United Methodist Church, says his congregation is still focusing on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world during this unique time.
“We have been staying open to what avenues God may have available for us to use,” he said. “We have been blessed to leverage technology to stay connected.”
The church’s worship services have been added to YouTube and Facebook for the past three weeks, Rev. Donnan said. He’s also inviting worshipers to participate in services using their smartphones and saying the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and singing “Jesus Loves Me.”
For Palm Sunday they were asked to video themselves waving palm branches. This week they’re filming themselves releasing the caterpillars they were given earlier in Lent which have now transformed into butterflies. For the second Sunday of Easter, members will video children hunting for eggs. Those videos are being incorporated into the worship services, Rev. Donnan said, and he even wrote a tutorial on his blog about how to use phones for worship.
“The strength of our online worship has been including the people of God through the gift of smartphones,” he said.
Rev. Antonie Walker is preaching live via Facebook each Sunday morning and streaming worship sermons online via Riverside United Methodist Church’s website and YouTube, but he is also using low-tech ways to stay in touch with his congregation.
He spent one recent morning calling all of the church’s members, spending time checking in, asking how they and their families were doing, and praying for them.
“It’s a part of keeping the connection, the sense of community, and meeting people where they are,” he said.
Churches across South Georgia are remaining Alive Together in Witness even while scattered. In the words of Josh McLemore, Douglas First United Methodist Church’s youth director, “Sometimes loving others looks like hanging out on Zoom.” Here are a few examples, shared with us via email and Facebook, of how local churches have creatively shared the gospel message and the love of Christ during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please note: some of these have already occurred and are for reference only/to help spur creativity. To add to the list, email email@example.com.
- Churches and individuals are offering to pick up groceries and run errands for vulnerable populations in their church and community.
- Churches are providing daily devotions and "check-ins" through Facebook Live.
- Churches are moving small group ministries and weekly Bible studies online using Facebook groups and Zoom.
- Churches are using Zoom for youth and small group ministry.
- Annie Paulk, Children's Director at Tifton FUMC, is live on Facebook each night for Bible Story Time. Annie and her children share a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible for peaceful sleep.
- Ted Goshorn, Eastman UMC Pastor, is offering daily prayers and guided reflection through Facebook.
- Glennville UMC is partnering with Tattnall County Schools to pack lunches for children with food shortages while out of school.
- Caren Dilts, Children's Director at Porterfield Church, goes live on Instagram to offer encouragement and connection with her children.
- Allison Vandenbergh, Children's Director at Albany FUMC, offers their Orange Curriculum with 5 resources for families to use at home and continue to grow in God's Word together.
- Nashville UMC is using the Facebook platform for daily devotions and prayer time.
- Jeremy Cole, Youth Director at St Mary's UMC, goes Live for youth on Sunday night.
- Pierce Chapel is bringing livestream to the preschoolers & friends with Chapel time with Mrs. Lynn.
- Pembroke UMC is using this as an opportunity for members to get to know one another better. They are recording video interviews to use during this time when they cannot be together face to face.
- Leesburg UMC, Friendship UMC (Donalsonville) and Trinity UMC (Warner Robins) have transitioned their food pantry into "curb-side" service.
- Clergy Cluster groups are meeting with technology to share ideas and offer support to each other during this unprecedented time.
- Avalon UMC and Bonaire UMC are dividing up the list of member/regular attenders and calling to check on each household and determine if there are needs.
- Jonathan Smith is working individually with churches to walk them through the use of technology for their ministry needs.
- Prior to Gov. Kemp’s shelter-in-place order, Jesup UMC churches rented the drive-in movie theater and offered church to all in the community.
- Wesley Monumental is distributing craft kits loaded with all the children need to participate in Bible lessons and crafts via live stream.
- Porterfield will be hosting a Live Prayer Meeting event tonight.
- Ivy Kratzer, Waycross FUMC shared her Joyful Noise Children’s Choir - Spring 2020 playlist (through Apple Music) with parents adding a short note encouraging them to engage in some praise and worship together since we can’t be together Wednesday nights. Children are also drawing pictures and cards to mail to nursing home and homebound members.
- Pine Forest UMC is providing Discipleship Kits for children and youth to pair up with several interactive live streaming events throughout each week.
- Harvest Church, Dublin FUMC and Warwick UMC cast a Facebook challenge to "Love on each other today" by picking up the phone and checking on 3 people who live alone, are quarantined or are over 70 years of age.
- Metter UMC gathered on Facebook for "Sandwiches & Study" as their Wednesday Night program.
- Ben Gosden, pastor of Trinity in Savannah, is sending out a few texts of encouragement each week. Members and friends can sign up to receive the texts and be uplifted.
- Kathy Israel McLeod at Hand Memorial is mailing out the weekly bulletin to adults who do not use technology, keeping them connected to prayer requests, the services posted to their website, and inspirational quotes and scriptures.
- Porterfield UMC & Mission Change partnered to deliver 209 snack bags to the medical staff at Phoebe Putney Health System.
- Richmond Hill and Trinity Chapel on Tybee Island have placed their Easter cross outside the church for people to stop by, add a flower, and pray.
- Skidaway Island UMC issued a "Sidewalk Challenge" to brighten up sidewalks and drives with pictures and scripture.
- Colquitt UMC provided prayer guides for members to pray for medical personnel.
- Clare Akins (Vienna UMC), Martha Bowman UMC Saintly Stitchers, Porterield Memorial UMC, Albany First UMC, Pierce Chapel UMC and several local churches are sewing masks for medical staff on the front lines in our hospitals.
- Members at Pierce Chapel are loaning extra "devices" such as iPads and setting up for older adults to stay connected.
While COVID-19 has changed much about the church, much has also stayed the same, Rev. Donnan said.
“We are checking on people, praying with people, and standing on the promises of God,” he said. “Church members are loving their neighbors by making sure everyone is well and not in need of supplies. Our prayer phone tree is used multiple times each week to check in with everyone. At the end of the day, we are still clinging to our hope that Jesus has made us clean in the most important way!”