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Friday, January 22, 2021

2020 Year in Review: Churches adapted to curb spread of COVID-19

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Churches had to get creative when the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Indiana earlier in the year. When it became clear it was no longer safe to have large congregations meeting in churches, Indianapolis pastors and church leaders took to the internet. 

Pastor Ruben McKenzie of New Mission Church has been utilizing Facebook Live to stream  services since March. While it can’t compare to the feeling of people gathering in the church, it has given the church an opportunity to expand its reach within the community. 

“The services give people access to the word of God, and from the comfortability of their homes,” McKenzie told the Recorder in March. “A lot of people who didn’t go to church before the virus started now have a lot of questions about why and want to learn more about God. With online services, it’s a little easier, I think.”

Throughout the pandemic, churches have faced fewer restrictions than other places such as bars and gyms. Churches were initially closed for about two months and received permission in May to hold services with up to 25 people.

Currently, indoor services are allowed at 75% capacity, and there is no limit to outdoor services. Many churches have remained virtual. 

Along with streaming services, some churches, such as Christ Missionary Baptist Church, took to parking lots for Easter service. John Girton, who retired from Christ Missionary in late 2019, helped organize the drive-in communion at Pike High School.

“It’s a day that represents hope for so many,” Girton said. “Right now, based on what we’re dealing with as a nation and global society, hope is something that we need.”

While COVID-19 changed the way people worship, it also changed how people give to their church. Many local churches found people were using technology to not only pray together, but to give back. 

“We’ve been blessed that people have continued to give to our church,” pastor Reginald Fletcher of Living Word Baptist Church told the Recorder in April. “We’ve employed our electronic giving, and they’ve been sending offerings online.”

Donations continue to be important to many churches, as church staff give back to communities in a time of great need through food pantries and counseling. 

Pastor Keith McQueen, who leads Powerhouse Church of Deliverance, started a mobile food service where church staff delivered food to members’ houses by van. While McQueen said Powerhouse saw an increase in donations early on in the pandemic, he said giving financially to the church may not be the most important thing someone can do for their pastor. 

“Pastors are really struggling mentally, emotionally and financially,” McQueen said in April. “No pastors today have had to pastor during a pandemic. We haven’t seen anything like this since 1918, and most of us weren’t pastoring back then,” he added with a laugh. “Be sensitive to your shepherd’s time. They’re pastoring an entire group of people and trying to create a blueprint to keep the church sound during this.”

While the pandemic forced church leaders to reevaluate how they reach their congregation, it also gave them time to reflect on why they do what they do. For Fletcher, virtual church services and social distancing helped him find the silver lining in a year with so much darkness.

“The biggest thing is to not forget [churches] financially, but also, stay connected with one another, encourage one another with prayer,” he said. “I believe this pandemic is giving us an out-of-the-box opportunity to think differently in terms of not just the way we worship, but why we worship. It’s not enough just to come together for the sake of coming together. Now, there’s a sense of appreciation and a sense of curiosity for those who have not had a relationship with God. They ask, ‘Who is this God that you are serving in spite of what we’re going through?’ … There’s a lot of questions being raised, and it’s an opportunity to share our faith and be a vehicle to let people know you can see God in different ways.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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