By Bekah Rhea
This Easter, thousands were hoping for a resurrection of “life as usual” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the ways we live, serve, and worship. Even though lock downs around the world continue, life-giving ministry is still taking place outside of the public eye. Congregations everywhere are harnessing the power of Facebook groups, video conferencing, and other creative resources to reach out to their communities in a time of need.
Clinton, South Carolina, is one such community adversely impacted by the pandemic. A former cotton-mill town, Clinton’s current economy largely hinges on new industry with limited hiring, and Presbyterian College nearby. Pastor Blake Harwell has witnessed this transformation over his 23 years in Clinton, and his congregation at First Baptist Church holds a long-standing reputation for community service. A glance at FBC Clinton’s website or Facebook page demonstrates their caring and active nature, as they arrange virtual ministry groups, organize children’s story time, do yard work, and deliver groceries to people in need.
A landmark of FBC Clinton’s outreach work is their ten-year-old Snack Pack program, where they provide food every Friday for certain schoolchildren over the weekend.
Clinton is part of a school district where 70% of children qualify for free and reduced lunch. Thus, helping fill the gaps in children’s nutrition is no small feat. Since schools have closed, FBC has been working with the district to deliver food in a way that respects social distancing. Around three-dozen church members have participated in packing lunches and breakfasts in an assembly-line fashion before children take them home from school or have them delivered via bus. The church wanted to make sure that, while kids may be without school, they won’t be without food. Thanks to their relationship to the school district and educators, FBC Clinton found a way for Snack Packs to continue.
Currently, FBC is working with the district to utilize school buses. Church members and school district employees distribute the packed meals along each bus route to families who don’t have transportation. And they accomplish this while still following the necessary precautions of protective equipment, hygiene, and physical distancing.
Harwell notes his church family is acutely aware that “even though we’re good at hiding” our panic during the COVID-19 crisis, “children pick up on those emotions.” This awareness stirs them on to coordinate virtual scavenger hunts, story time, and service opportunities to acknowledge those emotions while also providing a sense of comfort. But Harwell is also careful to add that the church doesn’t do this alone. He explains, “we’ve got school district folks and just a lot of people that care; it just so happens they’re from my church.”
Pastor Harwell, quoting the shared wisdom of a colleague, explained that the COVID-19 world is forcing churches to work “twice as hard to get the same results.” For many congregations, the learning curve with technology is steep, and traditional sanctuaries may not lend themselves to the necessary cables, lighting, and cameras necessary to carry on with services during this time. Not to mention many of us will become accustomed to the luxury of church in our pajamas, even after we’re permitted to worship together again. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 will transform the way we choose to cultivate Christian community going forward.
Nevertheless, Pastor Harwell maintains hope as his church continues to “do ministry in some ways that meet the needs of people who may be overlooked,” by providing both physical provisions and spiritual resources. After all, as bold faith practitioners in times of trouble, “you and I are called to take up our cross.” In the meantime, Pastor Harwell, like the rest of us, looks forward to the day we can worship in one room again.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has created a resource hub for the benefit of individuals and congregations in these uncertain times. Bold Faith Resources features original and curated resources for children, youth, adults, worship, missions, prayer, spiritual care, Spanish speakers and digital ministry resources for churches. This hub also includes all COVID-19-related news and updates for the Fellowship. Learn more at www.cbf.net/boldfaith.