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Churches keep up with community

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Whether it’s for a birthday party, choir concert or children’s storytime, people are finding creative ways to connect while social distancing and staying at home. Churches are among those trying to keep in touch with their community.

Most churches in the Dover area have either posted or livestreamed recordings of their worship services. For many large churches that already livestream services, the switch to go fully online was natural.

At Calvary Church in south Dover, as many as 1,500 people attend a regular service. Pastor Ryan Coon said this change has proved that church is much more than what happens in a building Sunday mornings.

“The church is anywhere where believers get together, not just between four walls,” he said. “Instead of going to church, we’re being the church.”

Coon said it’s been cool to see how the online worship services have reached people in different states, and even different countries. With more people staying at home, he has noticed more searching for a spiritual connection.

“I’m seeing people comment and contact our church more than ever right now,” he said. “People are having a lot more screen time so we want to be there for them and encourage them.

At Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Dover, Pastor Amy Yarnall said they were intentional about reaching older members who may not be as comfortable with technology. The church is livestreaming a service at 9:45 a.m. on Facebook and then posting it on YouTube. They also offer a conference call.

She is encouraging her members to keep in touch with their neighbors by offering to run errands or let them know they are there to help.

“We will continue to be the church and we know that our spiritual well-being is as important as our physical well-being, so we will continue to do what we need to do to be a blessing,” she said.

The pastors agreed that a big part of church is the fellowship and physical community. Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, on North Queen Street downtown, is connecting people by offering prayer over the phone every day at 7 a.m. and interactive bible studies via phone or video chat throughout the week.

Pastor Erika D. Crawford said it’s important for people to know that faith leaders are available.

“The church is really the last sign of a civilized society, so I want to do everything I can to keep the connection and keep everyone spiritually grounded,” she said. The church’s Sunday services are live, archived online and available by conference call.

Mt. Zion A.M.E. runs a soup kitchen every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Crawford said they will continue that as long as they can. “We’re keeping that open because poor people are still poor in crisis,” she said. The church also delivers meals to some of their older members.

Many churches are finding ways to lend a hand as more people face financial hardships or food insecurity due to coronavirus-related problems. Calvary Church, for example, has partnered with the Food Bank of Delaware and set up separate times for seniors to access their food pantry.

“This is what we were made for as a church,” Coon said. “The church was really meant to help the community whether they’re Christian or not.”

One way members often give back to the church is through offering or tithes. Many churches were already encouraging members to give online before services went virtual. For those who are not comfortable with online giving, Calvary accepts mail-in or drop-off tithes, for example.

With the recent changes, Coon said he hasn’t noticed a drastic change in giving. “We’ve actually seen an increase in giving online,” he said.

At Wesley United Methodist Church, some members give online, but Yarnall said it’s not the majority. Some are mailing in checks, but she said, “we are definitely down in terms of overall giving to the church.”

Pastor Gordon Simmons, the interim pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, off Dupont Highway near Kohl’s in Dover, said the church’s congregation has been supporting each other, calling and emailing to check in and fulfill any needs.

While the church’s worship services are now on Facebook and YouTube, the leadership chose hymns months ago before the coronavirus pandemic hit. One of the verses sung during their first virtual service was, “Do not be afraid. I am with you.”

“We think God has a message for us, even in these trying times, that we’re not alone,” Simmons said.

Virtual services