By Kara Witherow, Editor
Asbury United Methodist Church has learned a lot this year.
While 2020 has had its challenges, the downtown Savannah congregation has grown and developed during this unprecedented time.
Like several other churches, Asbury UMC underwent a pastoral transition this summer, but unlike past years, the change was in the midst of a global pandemic. The church also celebrated its 151st anniversary. Through it all, the congregation has pushed themselves beyond what they thought possible, said pastor Rev. Precious Hawkins.
Conducted completely virtually, her first Sunday at Asbury UMC didn’t involve a meet and greet or face-to-face connection with anyone. It’s been an adjustment she and the congregation have gradually gotten used to, Rev. Hawkins said.
Not yet ready to gather weekly in person, worship services are streamed via Facebook, YouTube, FreeOnlineChurch.com, and are available via Sermon By Phone.
“It was a big learning curve for me and them. I had to learn it and teach it,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of long nights. I wouldn’t say I have it figured out 100 percent, but it’s better!”
Although she majored in communications in college, Rev. Hawkins admits she was unprepared for the communications and technology work she’d be engaged in as a pastor.
“We spliced tapes together in school. We’re light years from that and what I learned,” she laughed. “The technology has been a blessing and we’re figuring out how we can reach people using these new platforms.”
Celebrating the church’s 151’s anniversary – known churchwide as “Asbury Day” – was a given, but how to celebrate safely was the question.
A virtual revival was planned, and over four days, guest speakers, lay speakers, and church members participated, celebrated, and worshiped virtually.
The event was a labor of love, Rev. Hawkins said, but it helped show the congregation that Asbury UMC is more than just a church building.
“I think there was some doubt that we could do something (for the anniversary) because of the pandemic, but this continues to push us beyond what we’ve been doing,” she said. “Asbury Day and the church anniversary are more than just being in the building. That’s one of the things I reiterate to them often. We are the church beyond the walls. I think they helped us see that we can do this and that it doesn’t have to just be as it always was.”
Asbury UMC Lay Leader Mildred Hall says that the anniversary celebration was encouraging and inspirational and helped church members understand that, while they’re apart physically, they can still remain connected.
A 25-year member of Asbury UMC, Hall says that the congregation remains connected to one another via phone, text, and Zoom.
“Looking out for each other and supporting each other is a norm. it’s what we do. Whenever the need is there, we’re there,” she said. “They help me survive. We help each other survive!”
For Rev. Hawkins, the pandemic has helped show her where she can reach out and build new relationships.
Her first few months at the church, she called members every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to say hello and get to know them. Once she had called everyone, she began writing notes.
Being willing to build relationships and learn new things is critical to growth, she said.
“We are figuring it out and learning resources to reach people. I am pushing myself and the congregation to find ways to connect with each other and people outside the church. I think (the pandemic) has shown some of our gaps, but also some of the things we can celebrate that we are doing well.”