On April 22, GenOn Ministries hosted an hour-long Facebook “chat” called “A Different Kind of Summer.” Facilitator Amanda Hinthorn posted questions and those gathered on our page shared answers, concerns, ideas, and encouragement about the summer of 2020 during continued Coronavirus social-distancing and quarantined times. There are a lot of unknowns and many creative ideas for doing new things. Enjoy the transcript of the conversation. Be sure to scroll to the last question, “What can we be praying about?” Read the transcript of the earlier chat on Staying Connected as Church Communities here.
What are the biggest challenges you feel like you and your church are facing as you move into a different kind of summer?
Planning. Folks would like to know if things are happening and we don’t have enough information yet. Is it better to rush to give an answer that we are going to have a virtual VBS or wait and see if we can meet in person later?
One of the questions I’m spending a fair amount of time contemplating is what we would like our church and our relationships with our church families to look like when this is over, and how we begin to lay strong foundations for that vision now as we do ministry during these days? Are we doing things we want to continue afterwards? Are we doing things that are inconsistent with our vison or our ethics? What do we know is best for great faith formation that we must might now have the opportunity to shift towards in these days and have it a part of who we are when we return? For me, how we connect with families and resource families to become the primary faith formers is key. How do we take advantage of these moments in time?
One of the questions I encourage our leaders to consider is “How many times a week are you asking people/parents/youth, etc. to come to the church?” Is it stressing the “drivers” of the family? Is it stressing the youth who are so involved? I think the same questions are appropriate during this time of no meetings together. Continue to look at the schedule and how the opportunities to be offered fit together with work and school-at-home responsibilities.
I wonder about the drive to pick up plans for activities. In my context we are not to leave our houses except to grocery shop and go to the pharmacy. I question whether it is appropriate to ask our families to make a run to the church to pick up palm branches, flat Jesus, or craft supplies. I’m not sure our families are as desperate for “stuff” as much as they are for continued relationships with families and church.
We have a very few designated people who do all the food ministries with safe shopping, etc. One can only pray that we can help to feed the food insecure while not bringing injury to our people. It is a delicate balance. We need to keep encouraging our families to stay home, using only what is available at home if they are participating in something online. No church runs for sure.
For me it goes beyond what the local, state, and national restrictions may be this summer. If we offer a program, does that imply we are providing a safe environment for children, youth and volunteers of all ages to gather? Is it “come at your own risk”? That’s a huge concern for us.
We are starting to look at “reentry plans” now. We know for sure the first step is a huge deep clean in all of our spaces, so we are starting there. Our pastor has put together a crisis team that is guiding us on some of this.
Some church leaders suggest trying to plan one month ahead of possible restrictions. Knowing that restrictions could be relaxed gradually including the numbers of people allowed to gather, now is the time to plan for it.
One of the questions that we are wrestling with is, what is the responsibility/liability if we have in-person gatherings?
Not knowing how to proceed and what we need to cancel or continue to plan on doing. Are families using or doing the things that we are putting out, or are they just too overwhelmed to even open our emails?
Overwhelming families with all things online.
I think figuring out what people need from us and making sure our communications meet a felt need so that what they get from us is something they are looking for and something that’s helping them. Not totally sure how to do that for everyone. But we could at least think more judiciously about every piece that we send out.
Dealing with people’s frustrations that this isn’t “over already.” So far, our community has had a low but steady infection rate, especially compared to other places in Texas, so people are not feeling much anxiety about gathering in public. At the same time, that outcome has been because our leaders acted so early.
People end up getting a little disconnected every summer, especially families. I feel like it’s going to be much worse this year.
The uncertainty of everything. Wanting to meet the needs of our congregation and community, while abiding by the stay-at-home order.
Not knowing what we will be able to do during the summer. Will churches be open, will we still be doing these virtually? The unknown is the biggest set-back.
Keeping things fresh while we are limited by ways to connect.
People’s endurance for change. After the newness wears off, we need to keep people engaged after staying at home becomes more comfortable.
I think the isolation is becoming overwhelming. If this sheltering in place continues for a long time, I am afraid we will see an increase in mental health issues.
If your church does Vacation Bible School (VBS), how are you planning for it in the summer of 2020? What are the challenges you are facing?
I’m going to pitch the idea of having a weekly meeting over zoom in the afternoon/evening. The plan was to really push for intergenerational VBS. So my big concern is connecting the older adults with kids and youth in a safe capacity.
We are going to try and do a weekend VBS. Two days, everyone invited.
If we offer online, how could we make it not be tied to a screen, but out and about? Could be hybrid. Some screen for Bible story and music. Playing, crafting, mission activity out and about.
One thing I’ve been thinking about is doing most of it as resource packets or challenges—things like faith scavenger hunts or crafts, and then maybe take pictures of their activities to post internally for the congregation to see. It’s hard, though, for that to feel like the group-oriented and relational VBS I was hoping for.
Could possibly do a morning and afternoon VBS to limit the number of kids per session. Also, if we can’t gather personally, we may continue weekly zoom sessions for youth with games, stories, and home activities.
I’m really struggling with this! Will kids/parents be tired of screen/digital by summer…BUT by summer will parents be expected to be back to work without the childcare they need? When I asked my VBS team they said, it needs to look different than school and a big bag of colorful supplies would be a welcome sight! We talked a lot about a VBS supply kit to go with whatever “video” we do.
VBS for me is VBS. So, I will probably do something and call it Summer Adventures and have a box or bag they pick up. That part will be labor intensive. But I might post videos that are brief with the Bible/theology stuff. Then they go and they do it hopefully on a set time so we can hear from them. Just brainstorming.
We are planning right now to have VBS (second week in August). We are one of a few churches in our community that hasn’t already cancelled. We are writing our own curriculum so it can be flexible enough to adapt to all online. We are excited about the possibility of VBS not just for kids but for all ages.
I heard an interesting idea last night on a VBS zoom brainstorm related to “neighborhood” groups—i.e. finding a small group host (per guidelines from CDC for your area at the time) and giving them the tools to minister with a smaller group in person. Given how much our children and teens are on screens right now, I think this idea might have some great implications.
We haven’t made a decision yet on if we will have VBS (July). The biggest challenge I am facing is getting volunteers. A lot of people are not going to be ready to be out even if things have re-opened. I am working on a plan B virtual VBS.
I feel somewhat certain that I would have the volunteers if we go with a VBS. If families are not ready to send their kids to a group gathering, I am not sure we could do a virtual VBS. We get about 65 kids to VBS and I would say at least 50 of these are from the community, non-church attenders. It boggles my mind to think about trying to reach out to so many that we don’t know…i.e. how to reach them.
Ran into the “ancient” curriculum (from 1991) entitled “Singing Mountains and Clapping Trees.” It is all about loving God’s creation and embracing shalom. Since it is all about the outside, thinking of updating the resources, posting them and then encouraging families to do one lesson a week or something. Might zoom part of it, then set them free with a connected project. There are excellent Bible connections for each lesson. Kids could listen to and learn “Trees of the Field” to sing when we are back together.
Our plans are on hold for now. With school possibly starting in early August and planning nearly impossible, it is hard to imagine an in-person VBS.
We are currently debating putting out a once-a-week virtual resource during the summer or delaying and hoping that by late July or August we can do something small like a one-day event. Perhaps even waiting and making a big deal over Rally Day, which we haven’t done much of recently.
VBS has been cancelled. Our goal is to plan an internal Welcome Back celebration, come the fall, if the way be clear. Many well-known ministry resources are only now beginning to piece together VBS alternatives. There is a possibility I will use one of these, especially if it’s free. Budget is frozen until further notice.
I’m concerned about volunteers. And if canceling is the best option, how we can make VBS a meaningful experience? I think it means making it a combination of brief virtual experiences plus at-home faith activities for families to do.
Hoping to offer story time, activities like crafts and games led by older children/younger youth from home and a large craft project that comes together from parts…then a “go out and do” part of the day to reach out to our community in appropriate distancing ways.
The unknown is what we are struggling with the most, our VBS is scheduled for the end of July so just waiting to see what happens but trying to work ahead to plan for an online option if we aren’t able to meet in person.
Our CE Committee decided to wait a few more weeks to decide and also get the input from our leadership if they would prefer a virtual VBS or wait until later in the summer (and hope we can get together). If we do meet in person, we would likely move our VBS outside as much as possible.
Thinking about doing the VBS theme for our Sunday morning option virtually. Or doing in one day a week over the summer to keep kids connected—still planning to do it virtually.
We haven’t made a decision yet. This is the hardest one. We have considered all the options. Delaying, cancelling, virtualizing, you name it. We have committed to making a decision on May 6 so we can prepare whatever we decide.
Currently, planning that it will take place like normal with fewer families. If we can’t meet we will postpone it until the fall and do a shorter version of VBS.
We moved our VBS June dates to late July. Now we are anticipating the need to offer an online version.
Challenge is making it exciting, relational, and not flat.
What will your summer offering look like for children?
Our children’s choirs typically perform a musical each spring, so we plan to do a three-day camp where they learn the musical and perform it in mid-July during worship. I have a mission and service planned for July as well. It’s my second year for that, and since we take a 15-passenger bus, the number of participants is low enough I hope we can still have that. Sunday school will continue as it has been.
My question in this is not so much how we replicate church led programing, but how we take advantage of this opportunity to support and resource parents in their primary role as the faith formers of their children. If we set aside everything on the table we should normally do in a summer ministry and start with the question of the best we can do for our children and parents while they have the greatest opportunity to talk about and experience faith at home as a family and work from there. I think we’ll find something new and fresh and meaningful.
I am sending out a weekly newsletter that is related to the sermon from Sunday. It has an activity, a craft, and something for the parents.
We are planning an online VBS program as well as our regular Sunday school time and Wednesday groups.
Maybe host some virtual game nights to keep kids/families connected. I’m thinking of sending out “Enjoying God’s Creation” earth signs from Illustrated Ministry to have families take photos and post on social media. Our families are very outdoorsy. I may survey parents to see what they’re looking for and what would be helpful. I’m getting the sense that once school ends, parents may be fatigued with online stuff for their kids.
I am not sure yet. This church has traditionally dropped Sunday school in the summer. This might be an opportunity to bring online activities to families. I would like to get parents involved in their children’s Sunday school as they have typically just dropped the children off.
Currently we have a zoom gathering (story, game, and prayer) each Wednesday afternoon, a moment with the children during the Sunday service, an email with a lesson for use on Sundays (Illustrated Ministry) and the teachers are now sending cards to the kids the week they are scheduled to teach. We will continue this for a while.
We will continue to provide resources for worship. We are going to try a Facebook Live Bedtime Story once a week. Our Sunday school year will be over, so we are going to have to get creative about how to connect with our children.
We will be sending out coloring sheets and lesson ideas for parents to use with their children. Maybe try to introduce Flat Jesus or scripture related scavenger hunts for folks to do in their neighborhoods.
We have been offering Godly Play sessions live via zoom, which have drawn a wonderful intergenerational mix and an opportunity to see one another face-to-face and remember that, while physically apart we still belong to one another. We will likely continue that through the summer. Currently, we are finishing up our Rainbow (LOGOS) year to include “class time” (via zoom) for each of our Bible Study classes and a closing banquet (of course, via zoom) to include a slide show.
Still working on it. Things to view, things to do at home, and ways to reach out to our community.
Sunday lessons with activities, live object lessons on private group for kids and families, daily devotions, weekly connection activities, participation in our Heifer fundraising.
Not sure. We also cut our LOGOS year short when this all started, and of course no Sunday school happening right now either. We sent out cards and letters to the LOGOS kids and I am in the process of doing so to the non-LOGOS church school kids.
What will you offer for youth over the summer months?
Everything is up in the air. Our High School Western States Gathering has been cancelled by the organizers—waiting to see if Confirmation Camp gets canceled for our middle schoolers. VBS???
Our church is continuing the Food Bank (feeding about 70/week with fresh food). There have been thoughts about using youth but in the end are too worried about exposure.
We have not yet cancelled our youth mission trips in July but expect they will be cancelled since one is an international trip. We are usually mission-oriented in summer with our youth and so we’ll probably find some creative mission projects to do together. Maybe some activities that we can do together online that build community.
We cancelled our youth trips last week. It was hard but I started looking forward to 2021. We based ours on feedback from parents, church leaders, and funding. We were still in the process of fundraising. With the church not meeting in person it put a huge dent in the budget. I am going to focus on local missions.
Mission—but we don’t know exactly what that will look like yet.
We were scheduled for a mid-July mission trip, that we are still waiting to make a decision on. We have been doing zoom for Sunday night meeting, and a group text for Sunday school check-ins and prompts. I have to be honest, the connection with our youth has been difficult.
Youth meet via zoom with their leader providing games where they can participate together. No lessons, keeping it light.
Not sure yet on this. My youth and families aren’t the most responsive at their best, and this is putting a a lot of extra pressure on them. One thing I have been doing all Lent, and will continue to offer, is a weekly reflection discussion post that I email out. I offered zoom sessions, but had no takers, and I really do think the youth are zoomed out by the time they get through classes and checking in with friends.
We are probably going to cancel our mission trip for the first week of July. Continue with zoom meetings and games. Lots of personal phone calls. Not sure what else we can do at this time.
Right now, our youth are meeting on a regular basis on zoom (Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights). They also have a game room on discord where they can play games online together. All of our summer trips have been cancelled except for our 5th grade mission day at the end of June. It’s local so we are waiting to decide about that.
Thought about a youth photo contest then make a calendar to sell for a fund raiser for next year’s mission trips.
Our high school youth have a few “trunk youth meetings” where they come to the church in their vehicles and park their cars 6 feet apart and sit in their trunks and have a Bible study and discussion. It has gone over very well.
It depends on the virus situation as to whether they will be able to go to the camps we usually send them to. We still hope to have some modified LOGOS and maybe some small get-togethers.
I feel summer is such an incredible time for youth, they can adventure and learn in a relaxed setting, so trying to still offer that to the youth but keep them safe.
I do worry about losing our youth. I had arranged for them to attend Canada Youth 2020, but it was cancelled. I have sent cards to these kids and occasional emails but that is all.
How will you help your whole church family grow in faith and fellowship over the summer months?
We have organized our Sunday sermons to align with the following Wednesday LOGOS Bible study (we do LOGOS online now). We are including “Faithful Questions” that go with the story. Seven questions per week so one for each day. The questions can be used as a personal daily devotional, or as a conversation starter around the dinner table. We are finding that we can’t ask our families to do one more thing because everyone is so overwhelmed with school at home. So this way, we simply give conversation ideas for dinner time.
Our adult Bible study groups will continue to meet via zoom. For children, we are working on resources for families to use at home during the summer. We are hoping that it can be a “kit” that families can come by the church and physically pick up rather than download. This is still in process!
Just beginning to plan a church-wide quilt or other hand-on project that will be sewn together. Each family will be asked to complete a piece. It may cover a communion table for the first time we worship together again.
I will continue sending family pages home (from Sparkhouse) that they can do once a week. Still pondering other ideas for the summer, when everything slows down.
Interestingly, some of the strong volunteers are thankful for a personal break. Their energy will be renewed, and they are using the time to reinvigorate their personal faith.
For adults, we’re planning a “Westminster Reads” where we all read the same book together, fiction or nonfiction. If restrictions lift later in the summer, having some small group gatherings that require minimal planning/volunteers—family bbq, hikes, etc.
We will bring back Flat Jesus (taking pictures of worship at home, being outdoors on your family walk, eating dinner with your family). At the end of the summer we will do something fun with all the pictures to celebrate the many adventures of Flat Jesus. We’re also in the process of creating a podcast prayer walk for our whole church to participate in over the summer months.
Planning a zoom class on spiritual formation to start in three weeks.
How are you planning on or how are you currently reaching out and serving those in your wider community?
At the very least, I will likely do a food drive in July. May call it a food “drive by” because I would drive by to pick up their donations.
A number of our members have been making face masks for our local hospitals. We have also been sending food to each of the hospitals for the staff.
Our church hosts the community food bank every month and our location within our town gives a wonderful opportunity to be a hub of service for those in need. We used our parking lot during Holy Week to have a physically distanced Stations of the Cross for people to walk through and read. We also put up our wooden cross with a sharpie for people to write prayer requests on. We are in a flat part of town with a lot of foot traffic.
We had our congregation decorate yard signs that say our church name at the bottom and left space to decorate and say “thank you” above the church name. We are putting them where employees park at the hospitals, fire stations, police, nursing homes, etc. I got permission first. We also did a food drive and got a lot of food and cash too. Everyone wants to do something to help. We are also having people who sew make masks for people in the congregation that need them and we have given away over 70 so far. Also, the police chaplains have asked for blankets to keep in their cars so they can give to family members when waiting outside due to a death in the family. We are also continuing to partner with an organization to serve meals in our community.
Our quilt ministry and prayer shawl ministries moved to homes. Still producing but cannot share right now. Food pantry open every Monday, serving about 70 which is more than double the normal. Friendship Dinners (Thursday for food insecure folks) is continuing with bagged food for pick up outside the church entrance. It takes a few people willing to shop and put the bags together.
We also connected with leaders at our neighborhood school and are providing some resources for families with some food insecurity needs.
We were collecting items for a refugee family, still are able to, however the organization asked us to hold additional items until May—they’ll share a revised pick up plan if possible at the time. We managed to gather quite a bit which we’re all grateful for. Most of our food collection has been stopped.
Our church partners with a local school to make weekend food bags for children on the free lunch program. We are continuing this—individual families either making the bags up or donating money/food to be added.
We have a mission drive in partnership with our public schools to provide hygiene items to the families that we normally feed with our backpack ministry. We are also collecting goods for our local community food pantry and we have some folks making masks and providing them for free or a donation for more materials.
Our hunger ministry is working with Project TOUCH to provide meals to homeless.
Our preschool has an initiative running that supports both local restaurants and those on the front lines. Through donations, food is ordered from the small, locally owned restaurants and lunches are going to our medical centers and hospitals.
Considering having youth send “thinking of you” cards to nursing homes.
We are going to offer our parking lot for the mobile blood bank.
What can we be praying about?
That God will refresh those of us who are just tired and overwhelmed, and that we can find ourselves walking into something new that God is doing, with confidence and hope.
For ways to be creative and innovative, thinking outside the box—with sensitivity and discernment for the overwhelmed families.
Patience and compassion indeed. We are all making and doing and trying to work through this. One day is easy breezy, another is faced with challenges. I ask for open hearts and minds, to be respectful of our entire church family, our community. To check in on one another, aside from the zoom, the Sunday school and emails.
Clear discernment in a time when every decision made gets push-back. We need to pray that the decisions we make are God’s decisions.
Patience and compassion for everyone, as we are all making difficult decisions in a time of great uncertainty.
Grace and balance. This is not a race. This is God’s stuff and it’s covered with abundant grace.
Insight and energy to be both creative and faithful.
For ways to balance the need to gather virtually and provide tools for faith formation AND providing space for the sabbath that we all are needing.
Patience and God’s direction and guidance.
Pray that we listen to God’s direction in all of this. Also, patience, kindness, and humor!
For connections with the families that seem so overwhelmed. For wisdom to make good decisions. For patience with ourselves as we feel overwhelmed by all the things we could be doing.