On Friday, March 20, GenOn Ministries hosted an hour-long Facebook “chat” called Staying Connected as Church Communities where facilitator Amanda Hinthorn posted questions and those gathered online shared answers, concerns, ideas, and encouragement about how congregations were staying connected with one another during the Coronavirus social-distancing and quarantined time. It’s the largest Facebook chat we’ve ever hosted and included the highest posting participation. We’re all hungry for community and to help one another through these challenging times. Enjoy the transcript of the conversation.
Where are you seeing God working in your life and/or ministry this afternoon?
Coming to the end of the first week, I’m being reminded to keep things simple. This is a great reminder as we struggle to meet everyone’s needs, but not overwhelm each other at the same time. God’s message is simple…trust in me, love me, know that I am always here. Tell me your challenges but also share your triumphs.
This week has been up and down. The great thing is that God has still been with us and I am seeing us come together and take advantage of the circumstances. We are having ministry ideas that were otherwise not possible before. That’s something!
God is giving me the opportunity to offer some comfort, hope, help and spiritual resources to the people in my church.
In this strange time, God is helping us do new and creative things to support one another.
The Spirit seems to be stirring with “permission giving” to try new things, and to have patience with people trying new things.
I see God working in a lot more immediate collaboration with team members and volunteers instead of waiting for scheduled meetings.
More drive and push from people to “do” things and take action.
I see God moving us forward and out of our paralysis and fear.
God is showing us new ways to be together.
The incredible desire expressed by our congregation to help others within our church and community. Also, the grace and patience they have had shown for the staff and leadership who are working feverishly to decipher the path forward.
We know God is at work here and many in our congregation are struggling with wanting to serve by helping others in need while maintaining the necessary “social distancing” required for personal health and safety.
Parents are wanting to do faith formation activities at home.
There’s anxiety, appropriately so, but there’s also a strong sense of “we got this, together.” So much checking on each other beyond anything we “officially” organize, and more. Makes my heart glad and physically lightens the load on my shoulders a little bit. Ministry and care are truly shared among us.
I see God working through our creative and out-of-the-box ways we are trying to do ministry. I see God work in the many, many people and companies waiving fees, rights, and money for their work and content so we can use it in this new digital age.
What tools and/or technology have you found to be the most helpful so far?
Dedicated page on the church website to centralize all our info into one location.
Zoom, Email, Facebook, YouTube, Marco Polo for Children’s Ministry
How are you fostering spiritual growth and study?
We are continuing our Lenten study via Zoom using Jill Duffield’s book. Many of our Sunday school classes are using Zoom for meetings. I am doing storybook devotions for our children. I have recorded the stories and our music director adds music. This week I’m going to try to add pictures too. Sharing that in our private Facebook group.
We are sending out weekly Sunday school lessons via email to children and their families. It includes a link to the Bible story via video. We also send out an email with all the songs we sing in Sunday school.
I’m creating three sets of packets each week for our Sunday school classes. There will be a story to read, optional video to watch, questions for understanding, an activity/craft/object lesson and other fun time activities: crosswords, extreme dot-to-dot, color by number, etc. Throughout the week, I hope to have fun challenges for each class via Marco Polo, where the kids can record a 2 sec, 10 sec, or 2 min video—to share and take part in the challenges and see each other. Praying for creativity!
I’m seeking to balance the “Mary approach” of sitting at Jesus’ feet with the “Martha approach” of getting it all done. Something to consider as we are all still in response mode and may continue there for a while.
I’m continuing to send our weekly devotionals and also the children’s bulletins—our newsletter will also continue and I’m posting three or four good resources each day to our church Facebook group. Some are things they can print out and others to read or different groups to join. Videos, quotes, ideas, etc.
Right now, doing the daily devotionals but plan to start digital education resources next week.
We are hoping to start Zoom Bible study next week.
I’m sending out the Faith at Home daily links and Illustrated Ministry weekly links to families. I also post them on Facebook.
The pastor plans to do a video series on Mondays about Psalms and Prayers.
Using Facebook Live to continue a women’s book study.
In these first days I believe folks are looking for care, fellowship, information, and support. We are a smaller congregation, so looking for ways to foster spiritual growth and study will come in the next few weeks. I believe we are in this for the long haul so right now I’m trying to attend to ways to help folks cope and breathe and remember “You are not alone” and “God is with you/us always” and “We are here for one another, still” and “You got this, and let us know how we can help.” The other will come quickly enough.
I’m encouraging our groups to use social media platforms to continue meeting, even if only for fellowship.
In what ways is your church serving those in need in your community during this unique time?
We have a regular hot meal program (Sunday lunch) that has become a bag lunch program. We are utilizing nearby sandwich shops to provide these, to help these businesses, too. These restaurants are very close neighbors that we patronize a lot for catering.
We have a big parking lot in the middle of a flat neighborhood that attracts a lot of foot traffic. We are brainstorming how to use it as some sort of prayer installation. We wanted to do a labyrinth on the parking lot but can’t figure out what medium to use. We can’t paint and nothing else seems weather resistant.
The Little Library we are constructing for our corner so that the lower income around us have access to books even though the library is closed. We will also deliver books to those who desire.
We are continuing our backpack program for feeding children over the weekends. Our county is feeding the children lunch and breakfast during the weekdays. We are also continuing to serve small gathers such as AA and being open for our police officers and first responders to use our church space.
Keeping up our donations to the local things we support (food banks, diaper supplies, snacks for local children, back packs for kids, etc.). These are supplies people usually bring with them to worship and we rely on the stuff being here, so now we are seeing more cash come in for those programs and we pass it along so it goes to the needs.
In our communication to the congregation regarding the Sunday online service, we have challenged the members to tag a friend in the Facebook post that they think might enjoy or could benefit from joining our webcast. Also, along with the children writing letters or sending pictures to our own elderly/challenged congregation members, we are reaching out to our local retirement community to hopefully offer the same kindness to those that cannot receive family visits anymore.
Our weekly soup kitchen continues as take out. The local hospital has asked churches to provide childcare, for essential healthcare workers’ children who are out of school, by matching one family to one healthcare workers for the duration. We’ve put it out there and will see what the response might be.
If you are having in-person interactions, what ways are you trying to keep each other safe?
We aren’t currently doing anything in-person. Staff is permitted to go to the church as needed but I don’t think any of us expect to run into each other. Spouses are working form home and church workers with young children are working as they can find open time.
We are a small church with two main staff members. We each have our own office and we are keeping safe distance from each other. Our daycare has remained open and is disinfecting more. Our janitor is disinfecting more. We are tracking all people who come and go from the building. We are doing meetings in a larger area with distanced seating and offering Zoom as an option—or calling in. Limiting in-person interactions. We do plan to do some tech-training with some of our elderly as they are comfortable, but will take temperatures and maintain as much distance as possible.
We are encouraged to work from home, but our head of staff lives in the manse next door. So, he is working at the church and keeping it open. Our Administrative Assistant is also working some hours—they are trying to stagger when they are both there. The rest of us come in as needed—but always check in so there are only a few of us at a time. We are about to do food donations for our local food bank—bin will be outside for drop off with 1-2 people in charge of pick up/drop off for minimal contact. Most of us are coming in to access shared drive or use printer. I do not bring my kids with me.
How are you reaching out to those in your church family who may be feeling isolated? Maybe the elderly or more vulnerable?
We have tossed around the idea of pen pals between children/youth and our older members. Our pastoral care team is checking on them regularly.
We have a congregation member who is spearheading grocery pick up and deliveries for those who can’t or shouldn’t get out. People sign up to make the run and they are paired with someone needing a delivery.
Our “parish groups” have a handful of names to contact each week and some more depending on the situation or need. The pastor and I are also personally checking in over the phone with as many people as possible so everyone in our congregation will be contacted multiple times per week.
We’re trying to match people who need help with those who want help. Our congregation is spread out geographically, so we are forming neighbor groups to check in on each other.
Trying to make some new connections and build some new relationships. We have a widower who I connected with a youth who misses his Grandpa. They’ll be sharing stories via telephone because neither is going out. Also connecting some our members with the local delivery services so they see some friendly faces.
I saw my pastor on my neighbor’s front porch a day or two ago. Staying physically apart but still visiting some of our older members.
We have some tech savvy older folks who are texting and messaging with lots of emojis!
I’m working on setting up FaceTime meetings with families who are self-quarantined for medical reasons. As a staff we are committing to sending a note/card to each person in our church, dividing up among all of us.
We also have a Mental Health Awareness Team that is working on some social media campaigns in a special closed group to lift up those who may be struggling at this time.
We started a pen pal program between our elderly and some of our LOGOS youth and families. It went over very well as parents have added letter writing to their homeschooling work.
How are you creating space for fellowship?
We were supposed to have a pizza and movie night the first of April—I’m going to see about the “party sharing” through Disney + to create a movie night with our families.
Our youth minister created a new Facebook group for families—parents are sharing ideas and working on a plan to have a virtual event (movie watch party or similar).
I am hoping to host a mom’s night out via Zoom. I am going to encourage a dad’s night out too, and am thinking of a parents’ coffee fellowship—all via Zoom. My focus is families with children—so these events are really aimed towards parents with children 5th grade and under. We updated to premium Zoom so we are encouraging groups to use Zoom for meetings.
Our pastor has asked me to look into the Sunday morning LIFT class and how we can do that.
Our pastor is hosting a Zoom “meeting” on Saturday morning just for coffee and conversation. Also FB has been instrumental in keeping people connected.
We’re organizing a talent show night where everyone can send in/post their talent and let everyone know to post on a certain night between these times, just like this Facebook chat, so you can sit down and enjoy each other’s’ talents. We’re also having people send in greetings so every live stream starts with a video compilation I make of members saying hi.
I’m in a very new position and don’t know our children or their families very well. I have requested they each send me a picture of their family so that I can pray for them individually. Not only is it helping me see which children belong with which adults, but I’m also getting direct communication with an adult from every family. We’ll gather via Zoom Sunday afternoon for the first time and I can show them their pictures. I will probably put them all in one document and share them with the group. Very much a work in progress.
Our church is doing devotions and music.
Started a Facebook group for families. It’s private, but we’re sharing the link outside of our church members. It’s more for encouragement. Music, prayers, art, some helps with remote learning. As a congregation we’ll start a Facebook live event two evenings a week to share a devotional and receive prayer requests. It will be led by a different person each time.
How are you “gathering” those in your church for worship in this time of social distancing?
We are streaming a worship service with some music and a sermon on Sunday and then following the service we will be having a Zoom “Gathering Time” to see each other and pray.
The current plan and what we’ve been testing is Zoom.
We did our first ever Facebook Live last Sunday and will do again. Still working on ways to involve a large number of our “flock” who are not going to use technology no matter what. We are looking to go back to making CDs of our worship service and deliver hymnals to their homes so they can participate that way.
Our pastor is doing a video ministry on Fridays about how to create a sacred space in your home to prepare for meaningful worship.
Some companies are offering free (music sharing) licenses through April 15.
We are offering a recorded worship service online and through our local TV station once a week.
We recorded worship and will post to Facebook on Sunday morning and YouTube. I’ll email the link out to folks with a bulletin. Includes communion and some music. Next week we will record our parts separately and have one of us edit into a whole—since I believe shelter-at-home restrictions will increase, we are planning ahead for that. I also don’t want to risk the health of our musicians’ family nor mine. I’m creating a Worship at Home guide for each week.
If you’ve thought this far ahead, share your plans for Holy Week and Easter if you are not able to meet in person at that time.
Sending out a challenge of having everyone record themselves proclaiming, “HE IS RISEN” and then maybe put a song behind it.
I would like to do some kind of “Holy Week at Home” kit put together with all that they need. Either have them available for pick up at church or I might drop them off.
We have a tradition to teach little ones with the Resurrection Eggs. During Holy Week, we are hoping to have daily posts with the teacher who has done this for decades so we can keep the tradition.
For us, it’s a date on the calendar—we intend to celebrate the resurrection the next time we gather together for worship.
We’ll be doing a Palm Branch slide show from the pictures sent to me.
Hoping to put together some sort of Palm Cross outside with a palm order that we can’t cancel. Or make Palm crosses to be mailed.
GenOn will have Sunday LIFT sessions available for families to do at home. Using these leading up to Lent can help families on that journey.
We’ll be having a virtual egg hunt. I’m going to hide eggs all over the front yard of the church. We will take some pictures and then post them to Facebook. Then whomever can count the correct number of hidden eggs will win.