By Liz Andrasi Deere
As we all navigate what it means to be faithful to the call of Christ in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to know if we are doing the right things, or if what we are doing is enough. Pastors are not immune to this uncertainty. For some, the most faithful response is to engage every connective media option available. For others, simplicity is key.
On Friday, March 13th, Pastor Daniel Stallings, of University Baptist Church in Montevallo, Alabama, sent a message to his church community cancelling in-person gathering for services and began urging UBC members to start practicing physical distancing. For Stallings, this decision was fairly easy to make given that a little less than half of his 110 congregants are over the age of 60, some with pulmonary issues making them particularly vulnerable.
Now physically separated from the people of UBC, Stallings spends his days wearing a lot of hats. He and his wife Kathleen—who is 34 weeks pregnant and has a full-time job—are both working from home while they also care for their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Jacob.
Caring for the Vulnerable
UBC is a community founded upon inclusion. Stallings explained “normally I would be in the pulpit reaching out, encouraging our folks with their favorite sermon: being more inclusive to the socially marginalized; right now, it’s more about age and physical vulnerability.” In these days of dispersal, he said, “we’re looking toward the margins, towards those who don’t have the support network and we’re ready, I hope, for opportunities to be there for folks.”
It seems they are ready. In the early days of this crisis, Stallings received a request from the mayor of Montevallo: an elderly individual in the community needed help with groceries. Two members of UBC volunteered immediately to buy and deliver groceries and committed to continuing support for the foreseeable future.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold in their community, which is only 45 minutes outside of Birmingham—the population center of Alabama and the epicenter of infectious disease—this early request will certainly not be the last.
The Gift of Time
UBC was not already equipped with the capability to record in their space with good sound quality. So, Stallings sets up his laptop in a room in his home with the best natural light and he keeps things personal as he delivers shortened homilies. He is pairing these videos with written devotionals that he sends out to the church via email and on Facebook.
He prepares for these written and video messages by mining scripture. He explained, “people need to face their fears and anxieties in constructive ways; luckily the gospel, and the Bible more broadly, offers many avenues to do so.”
When he is not recording video devotionals or composing written content for the people of UBC, he is on the phone with them.
“The real blessing of this has been sort of the sprawl that it’s created with the time I have,” he said. “My sense of responsibility has shifted away from that of the scheduled and time-oriented towards that of person-to-person oriented.”
He takes all the time he needs with each person to “hear how things are going, hear about their day, make sure that they’re taking care of their physical health, their mental health, and making sure that their basic needs are being met.” He pays special attention to those who do not have family and whose support network is limited to the church and perhaps their neighbors.
By making deliberate choices to keep communication simple, he is able to invest more time connecting in conversation with the people of UBC and keep a pulse on what they need.
The Fruit of Simplicity
Stallings has been surprised by the responses he has received. Facebook is his primary means of disseminating the public content he is creating and people within his congregation whom he did not realize were present online are connecting with the messages there. Others, who are not necessarily Christians or church goers, but who are friends with Stallings, have expressed gratitude for what he shares.
In this midst of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, as pastors are learning on the fly how to connect with and care for their communities it can be tempting to feel like what they’re doing isn’t enough. But maybe—as Stallings demonstrates through his work and witness—it is.
This unexpected fruit makes him think of “the parable of the sower,” who we see “scattering seeds generously regardless of the nature of the soil, just all over the place, and you never know where the fruit will grow.”
“Perhaps some fruit will sprout from this time that we couldn’t have imagined otherwise,” Stallings said.
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.