The historical backdrop against which the New Testament of the Bible was written is painted in dark, menacing shades. The weighty and wide oppression of the Roman occupiers was shaping the lives of the unfortunate occupied. Life was cheap, slavery was an accepted cultural norm. Nature was no ally to the suffering as a succession of life-sapping famines claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. It is against this bleak backdrop, the Apostle John exhorts his fellow Christians, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” Some two-thousand years later, a strange, new virus is traversing the globe its exponential spread outstripped only by the rising anxiety with each new day’s update. Against this backdrop, local churches are loving our community, not just in word, but in their actions.
Long before the word coronavirus wormed its way in our conversations, Holley Assembly of God was operating its ACTS food pantry (www.holleyassemblyofgod.org/acts) serving the needy in our community. It has been such a mainstay that other churches support it and refer people looking for help to it. One would think that with incomes threatened and even eliminated by business closures, visits to the pantry would be increasing, but that is not case, said Pastor Bo Senterfitt. “They have actually declined because people assume that, because other food pantries have closed, we are not open. We’re certain that will change as people realize that we are still open.” They have changed their procedures because of the virus threat. “Our volunteers are gloved and masked,” said Senterfitt, “and they meet people outside the building with premade bags of staples.” He added that donations of non-perishable food stuffs are needed, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the drop off days, and financial donations are appreciated.
Community Life Church’s “COVID-19 Resources” webpage (https://www.clc.life/covid/) reads, “Every need is an opportunity to share God’s love. That’s why we are responding to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) by serving the people who are most vulnerable, not by panicking or hiding out of fear. We are praying for those who may be affected by the virus and praying for God’s protection over us all.” The church has become a resource hub for Gulf Breeze’s response to the COVID-19 virus. “We contacted every church in our community,” said Jenn Lusher, CLC’s Care Ministry coordinator, “and several of them have partnered with us.” The partnering churches are Momentum Church, Liberty Church.
The webpage provides opportunity for people to sign up to help. There is also a link to which people can submit prayer requests. Lusher reports that they are receiving requests for prayer in the middle of the night and, thankfully, there are volunteers available to pray all night. Most churches in our area have added similar links to their websites where anyone can submit a request for prayer.
Several churches are making the most of available technologies, some thoughtfully providing parents with video lessons and activities for their homebound school children. Liberty Church has posted on their website (www.libertychurch.net/updates/), “Resources for Liberty Church Kids,” providing teaching videos and accompanying activities for Elementary and Preschool children. Risen Savior Lutheran offers as a download on their site a “Quarantine Activity Book” that, in addition to age appropriate activities, includes the CDC’s guidelines for handwashing and even some “Dumb Dad Jokes” (www.risensaviorchurch.org/quarantine-activity-book/). Visit Coastline Calvary Navarre’s COVID-19 Resource page (www.coastlinenavarre.com/covid-19-updates) and you can view short, encouraging video messages from various team members that are posted daily. Compass Community Church is using the community site, Nextdoor (www.nextdoor.com), to invite people in the community to submit their requests for prayer. The Compass core team prays for those requests on Wednesday evenings when they gather to pray via a Zoom video session.
Churches are realizing that the changes they have had to make to their ministries are the new norm for an indefinite period. Many pastors are experiencing stress, not from fear of the virus, but from being suddenly thrust into ministry platforms that are new to them. But the COVID-19 threat has thrust everyone into new norms. Together we can do this.
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