Local pastors are exploring new and innovative ways to reach their church congregations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“We’re trying to stay in contact as much as possible. I’m emailing my whole church two or three times a week,” Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church Rev. Marcus Allen said.
Allen contacted several pastors after facing the difficult decision to physically close their doors to the congregation. Allen said he and several other pastors have undergone training on Zoom Video Communications services, started hosting Sunday services and bible study on Facebook Live, and distributing lunches provided by the Madison Metropolitan School District to families in need while they are at home.
“We want to make sure that people have food during this time of despair. We want to make sure that food is something that not something people are worried about,” he said.
Mt. Zion also texts members to inform them about the payer schedule, online bible studies, and additional programming. Unfortunately, this means churches cannot physically hold offerings and members of the congregation do not have the opportunity to hug and greet one another in person.
“For us, when we’re told we can’t gather, it’s like a doctor telling you can’t pick your baby up when they’re crying,” Lead Pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church Alex Gee said.
Gov. Tony Evers signed an Executive Order on Tuesday banning gatherings of more than 10 people to help contain the spread of the virus in the state. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also recommended social distancing of six feet between people. Some pastors canceled service last Sunday, before that order was issued.
“We made a decision not to meet because we understand people are walking around thinking they’re healthy and we don’t want to make the sick more vulnerable,” Gee said.
Social distancing rules also apply to faith-based gatherings. Some pastors, including Gee, have expressed how difficult canceling services and programs were for their communities. A lot of churches are doing their best to remain connected on social media.
“I think the big challenge is that we’re not necessarily a technologically savvy church,” Gee said.
He said this has been a learning process both for staff and members of the congregations as they find creative methods to keep in contact. He said some of the younger members of the congregation have begun planning online games for the congregation while people find themselves stuck in their homes.
“What makes this particularly difficult is Church has always been our time to bring people together in a crisis,” said the Honorable Rev. Everett Mitchell, Pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church.
Gee said the church has always had a significant role within the African American community. Mitchell recalled churches coming together in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the Charleston church shooting, the Poway synagogue shooting, and the shooting of the unarmed Madison teenager Tony Robinson.
Marcio Sierra Jr. is the President and Senior Pastor at Lighthouse Church, a bilingual, mostly Hispanic, non-denominational, international church on the west side. He explained how difficult social distancing can be for vulnerable communities. Some of the members of Lighthouse have not been able to work because businesses, hotels, restaurants have closed down in response to the pandemic. He also said victims of domestic violence are especially vulnerable.
“A lot of times women who are being physically abused often see the church and work as an escape so when you’re quarantined with that person for days,” the situation can become dangerous, Sierra said.
For this reason, he said members of the congregation should check in with one another and help when able. Sierra said he and other members of the church were able to find a solution for a mom to work from home and watch her children.
“We were able to have another member of the church teach the kids a lesson through FaceTime while the mom worked from home,” he said.
Sierra and other pastors have restated the importance of staying inside for everyone, however, canceling services make it difficult for churches to continue financing their programs. Sierra said Lighthouse has used funding from a special emergency fund to help members during this time.
“We look at hotels and restaurants but you don’t see anywhere about how churches are suffering financially,” Allen said.
All of the staff of Mt. Zion have been working remotely within the last week. Allen said they have been able to maintain their operations. He encourages members of the church community to continue to giving to the church while social distancing.