Churches finding new ways to stay connected, share messages

| April 6, 2020

Churches might not have their doors open for the Easter season due to the COVID-19 epidemic, but pastors have still been busy finding new ways to spread messages of hope and togetherness.

Pastor Joe Sanders from the First Baptist Church of Coshocton has been live streaming services on Facebook for over a year and now also does morning devotion videos, which he started on March 16 after a visit to the grocery store.

“I said to myself several times, ‘I think I’m living in a third world country’ as I looked at bare shelves,” he said. “I sensed an overwhelming panic emerging. There was a man and wife with three grocery carts filled. It was more hectic than Christmas shopping.”

He was concerned for people who might be starting to panic and felt there was a need for hope and peace, which he’s been able to share using Facebook Live Streaming.

“As Christians we know, we believe, we trust, and we have faith in times of the unknown,” Sanders said. “I believe in the God, Jesus Christ, who is never surprised, caught off guard by what we call the unknown. It may sound simplistic to say but healthy or sick, alive or dead Jesus loves us, is with those who love Him, and has promised us eternal life with Him in heaven. In good times and in crises he is hope, this gives peace, this is empowering. I want people to have this, to hold onto this, and to experience this – Jesus Christ.”

Pastor Ashley McMillin from Nellie Chapel and New Guilford United Methodist churches also has been adjusting to moving worship services online and keeping her congregation connected through calls and texts.

“The way I did that is by making a list of all our members and regular attendees and dividing it into quarters,” McMillin said. “On week one, I call groups A & B while volunteers call groups C & D. Then on week two, I will call C & D while the volunteers take A & B. That way, everyone hears from the church weekly, and the pastor bi-weekly. I’m always available in emergencies or for anyone who needs me.”

Another project she started is a Wednesday Bible study through Zoom.

“We were able to have good discussion about how to handle worry through the teachings of Jesus, and we talked about implementing habits like prayer, scripture reading, and sabbath to help create a routine that sustains spiritual health,” she said. “It was a great way to stay connected and talk about the state of our souls.”

Central Christian Church members also are meeting on Zoom.

“Often most of the chat is filled with conversations about how we are all doing, what we are getting ourselves into to pass the time, asking about our families, and laughing at the frequent silly stories that are told,” said Allison Wiandt, who attends the church. “However, we always set aside some time to bring up any joys and concerns and pray together for our church, our loved ones, and the world.”

She hasn’t made every meeting, but when she does she finds comfort in seeing the faces of those who are such a big part of her life.

“In a way, even though we are all secluded in our own homes, it makes me feel like we are all together because we’re all in the same situation,” Wiandt said. “There is nothing that brings a person more hope than being in an extremely difficult situation that restricts any social activities including church, yet still finding a way to ‘be together’ to support one another, grow as God’s people, and pray.”

Pastor Mike Jansen from the Coshocton Christian Tabernacle (The TAB) is impressed with how church leaders have adjusted and found ways to keep their congregations connected.

“At first glance it might appear many churches lack the equipment, expertise and computer savvy for an overnight jump to online services and communications,” he said. “Though there are certainly some truths to those reflections, I am amazed at how so many churches have so quickly adapted and adopted to the needs of the times. Coshocton church leadership truly has some of the most dedicated, ‘can do’ servants I have ever met. I expect to witness plenty more of the same in the days ahead.”

The TAB already provided an online service and a mid-week message through Facebook and e-mail, but recently took another step to stay connected.

“As the pandemic heated up in March, the pastoral staff at The TAB divvied up the directory and sent out a short personal letter to everyone in the congregation,” Jansen said.

When they realized a portion of the congregation was not connected by social media or e-mail accounts they turned to snail mail.

“A regular and purposeful renewed effort at good old-fashioned pencil and paper communications for those without computer access will be maintained from here on out,” Jansen said.

Another way the church reached out was by having members of its worship team play live on Facebook.

“A fabulous staple for decades at The TAB’s Sunday morning services has been the music,” Jansen said. “This church has an extremely talented group of young people who not only know music and have worked together for years, they know and love the Lord. The recent online streaming of our modified worship team was an answer to our church’s desire as well as a call to participate in song with praise and prayers to the Lord our God.”

Since the stay at home order was expanded pass Easter The TAB decided to have a parking lot drive-in Easter service.

“It was felt an outside experience could provide a limited opportunity for connection to meet together without endangering any who might wish to attend,” Jansen said. “Vehicles will be adequately spaced. Every precaution for safety and personal space will be put into place for the safeguard of any who attend the service.”

Another church having a drive-in Easter morning service with everyone staying in their cars is Keene United Methodist Church. Pastor Paula Marbury also recently encouraged the community to come celebrate spring and a good report from the doctor for Ava Winner who has been receiving treatment for cancer. On Thursday morning, April 2, Marbury and her 6-year-old granddaughter Aaliyah Roth decorated the church’s sidewalk with chalk designs. They then invited the community to come fill in the pictures. Chalk was placed in baggies and families were welcome to come use it and take the chalk home. Marbury just asked that everyone practice social distancing and not all come out at once to participate.

“We wanted to try and let kids know that there are still normal things they can do,” she said. “Our kids have had their days interrupted, but we want to let them know that God is still here in the midst of all this and they can still have fun.”

Marbury was inspired to do the project from newscasts she’s seen from other communities and a photo that was sent to her from Pinterest.

“I had adults ask if they could come too and they were also welcome,” Marbury said. “There are still good things going on even though we may all feel so isolated.”

Jansen encourages everyone to stay connected however they can and still find ways to celebrate Easter.

“The staff and leadership at The TAB encourage the support of everyone in the community to join with their local church of their choice in the celebration of Easter, however that looks,” he said. “Even if not up close and personal, Coshocton’s churches will be together in heart and spirit with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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Category: Faith

About the Author ()

I started my journalism career in 2002 with a daily newspaper chain. After various stops with them, I am happy to be back home! I graduated from Coshocton High School in 1998 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2002 from Walsh University. I also earned several awards while working for daily papers, including being honored by Coshocton County’s veterans for the stories I wrote about them. I am honored and ready to once again shine a positive light on Coshocton County. I also am the proud mother of a little girl named Sophia!

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