Church doors across the country are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Wesleyan churches, combining their passion to reach the lost with their creative giftings drawing from their connectional and entrepreneurial DNA, are showing compassion and care to those in their communities in new ways.
Love Chapel Hill (LCH) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, continues living out its everyday mission, “Love Chapel Hill with the heart of Jesus.” LCH is located in the heart of local businesses, as well as some of the city’s population made up of people experiencing homelessness.
“We meet in this movie theater that’s right in the middle of all of that,” said Rev. Matt LeRoy, LCH senior pastor. “And that was an intentional move for us as we look at the life of Jesus and we see the mystery and the beauty of the incarnation, we felt very strongly the Holy Spirit pushing us to try to embody that same kind of bend towards incarnational ministry to root ourselves right in the heart of the community.”
LeRoy said about 10-15 percent of LCH’s attendees are men and women currently experiencing homelessness. Rather than saying the church has a homeless ministry, LCH says “We have a church family, where everyone has a place to belong and to serve and to lead.”
A gathering of Chapel Hill pastors and leaders met to discuss COVID-19. One participant was a University of North Carolina professor who serves on the federal emergency response team for infectious diseases. LeRoy said the professor, “asked us to put together a united front as the Christian community … as leaders … to set an example and to lead the way in saying we’re going to suspend our Sunday gatherings for the sake of not putting more people at higher risk.” The faith leaders agreed.
Two days later, the North Carolina governor mandated no meetings for groups over 100. So, on March 15, LCH encouraged everyone to watch a video (placed on social media, YouTube and the church’s website) produced by a church member and engage in that way. LCH continued its weekly ministry of serving coffee and food to those experiencing homelessness. The ministry of presence was key and the group engaged in conversation with friends, explaining COVID-19 symptoms to watch for and steps to take if sick.
“I think we’re seeing churches getting so creative in the way that they’re unleashing the people that are in the congregation, to be the church during this time,” said LeRoy. LCH is also partnering with other churches and organizations, helping to provide meals to children who regularly depend on school-provided meals. Others are providing free childcare to families in need while kids are out of school.
LeRoy is encouraged at what he is seeing, as the Church steps up across the country.
“The church cannot be stopped, the church will not be slowed down,” said LeRoy. “And even in the midst of this, when we can’t gather together on a Sunday, we are showing who we actually are, who we truly are — as this beautiful Kingdom Force [of God] moving through the world. We are going to see more and more avenues of expressing that that we didn’t even know was possible.”
College Wesleyan Church (CWC) in Marion, Indiana, is serving its community in various ways too through the COVID-19 outbreak. CWC is partnering with Marion Community Schools to provide food to children under age 18. The first week of the partnership, a group from CWC helped pack 8,000 meals (4,000 bags with two meals each).
The church also has many attendees who work in the restaurant industry and depend on hourly wages and tips. Since Indiana has shut down restaurant dining rooms, these men and women are in great need. CWC is examining ways to assist them, many of whom became connected to the church through Immigrant Connection.
CWC is also serving other churches in the Marion area, especially those unable to provide content to parishioners electronically.
“One big thing we’re doing is connecting our CWC tech ministry staff with other churches that aren’t as well resourced,” said Dr. Emily Vermilya, CWC executive pastor.
CWC is helping Marion churches set up livestream capabilities, loaning equipment to churches and doing all they can to set up other churches’ abilities to hold church electronically. Tech staff at CWC have set up a resource page with ways to serve those in need during this COVID-19 crisis.
“We are using this as a page to continue to build, a place for practical ways that folks can be helpful in this time of need,” said Vermilya. The collection of helpful ideas includes an app for how parents can engage in discipleship with children, how to assist one’s neighbors, how to care for those in proximity. CWC staff have even created a tutorial for senior adults who want to watch church or engage online but have never done so before.
Stories are surfacing of how folks are using the phone to check on each other, whether via chats, video or FaceTime. Just recently, the church began to explore how to engage in small group online.
“Folks are accustomed to meeting with their small group and are recognizing how they need this connection, especially in a time like this, and we are working to make small group technologically savvy for those who want it,” said Vermilya.
Hayward Wesleyan Church (HWC) in Hayward, Wisconsin, is finding multiple ways to minister to the hurting and confused in this small town in the northern part of the state.
A partnership with a local food distribution outreach has enabled approximately 400 families to receive food this past week. Food distributions will take place twice each month.
The HWC staff team is also trying to establish more of an online presence. The children’s pastor is offering a daily online Bible story. The youth pastor is offering teens a Bible plan and reading the passages online.
Another ministry HWC is engaging in is writing notes and cards, and drawing pictures for nearly 200 nursing home residents. The project is called “200 forms of encouragement.”
McCallum has also been invited onto two local radio stations to offer words of wisdom and encouragement to listeners. McCallum provides encouraging and hope-filled words on one station. On the other station, he presents a 20-minute message and is free to share whatever he wants about Jesus. Both radio spots are offered at low rates, with part of the cost of a regular spot being paid for by a local resident.
McCallum and church staff are grieving that they’ve had to close the doors at HWC, which has closed only one Sunday in 29 years. The group shed tears when they met and realized canceling Sunday gatherings would happen.
But they are still doing their best to connect people in these unprecedented times. The vice chairman on the local board of administration said, ““Right now we are discouraging gatherings, but we can encourage connections.” HWC pastors are calling five people each day to see how they are doing.
“Those individual conversations are going to carry people through,” said McCallum. “Everyone can do something during this time.”
“I have heard it said, ‘in this season where we’re so focused on washing our hands, we need to not forget that Jesus washed feet too,” said Rev. David Drury, chief of staff for The Wesleyan Church. “Our churches are leading by example in doing that very thing.”