March 26, 2020
Just a few minutes ago two students from Jane’s neighborhood knocked on her door and talked with her through her storm door. They were walking around the community, checking on neighbors, and distributing a list of neighbors’ phone numbers in case anyone needed to call for help. We’ve been delighted and surprised to see the compassion and care that is being expressed during this time of crisis in our country and the world.
A lot has transpired since we wrote our last letter to you two weeks ago. The Coronavirus has become a reality in Ohio and throughout most of the country. The number of cases has been multiplying exponentially and is expected to do that for a while. Additional deaths are being reported daily. Ohio’s Governor has ordered all non-essential personnel to stay at home, and all non-essential businesses to close in order to limit the spread of the virus and to help to flatten the curve so that our hospitals, which are already being taxed, are not overwhelmed by the numbers needing treatment for the disease. The Centers for Disease control and our President have directed people not to gather in groups of larger than 10 people, and social distancing – staying at least 6 feet from other people - has become the norm. Closer to home, a leader from one of our ABC Ohio congregations has been hospitalized at Cleveland Clinic with the virus.
Of course, because of Separation of Church and State, the governmental orders are not binding on the church. But the Governor has specifically asked pastors to model safe practices at this time, and we have been pleased with the responsible and creative responses to the pandemic that we have seen throughout ABC Ohio. Nearly all our congregations have made the decision to stop all in-person meetings and worship services as a means of protecting congregants and limiting the spread of the virus in the community. The church may not be meeting in traditional form, but it has by no means stopped meeting, nor has it stopped being the church. Let us share some of the things we have seen that may inspire your congregations to do a new thing in response to the pandemic…
· In the past two weeks, we have gotten to hear dozens of ABC Ohio pastors preach and lead in worship through electronic channels. Congregations have been recording or livestreaming their worship services and sharing them through Facebook and other platforms. This has allowed people to participate in worship who cannot leave their homes. Some of the worship services are simple one-person devotional times, while others include full-length sermons and either live or pre-recorded worship music. Pastor Stephan Bloomfield of FBC Mt. Gilead shared that his congregation normally has 50-60 people in Sunday worship, but more than 550 people had viewed their on-line worship service this week. While nothing replaces the fellowship of believers, this is certainly an indication that new people are being reached who were not participating in the more traditional form of worship. It may also indicate that people are hungry for God’s presence and for what the church may have to offer.
· Many pastors have continued midweek prayer services, Bible Studies, and weekly small group meetings using Facebook or Skype. Last evening, we viewed at least a dozen Wednesday night Bible Studies on-line led by ABC Ohio pastors. Several pastors are doing a daily devotions or check-ins from their home offices, living rooms, or outdoor spaces.
· Based on comments from the director of the Ohio Department of Health, some churches have already anticipated that they will still need to practice social distancing through Easter. Rev. Mike Cole of FBC Perry has shared with his congregation that they will have a drive-in service on Easter Sunday in their church parking lot. They will set up a sound system and have a worship service reminiscent of the old drive-in theaters.
· Of course, Pastoral Care is a great need during this time. We’ve heard of pastors, deacons, and others making hundreds of phone calls, sending dozens of e-mails and writing many cards and notes to help people stay connected and to be sure the older saints are getting the help and support they need. And of course, telephone or on-line prayer groups are playing an important role in pastoral care.
· Rev. Katie Oskin of First Baptist Church of Hubbard has invited American Baptist Women of ABC/Ohio and others who sew to join in making masks at the request of University Hospital in Cleveland. They are hoping to generate 1 million masks to offset the shortage anticipated in two Cleveland hospitals. If you’d like more information about this project, please email Jane and she will connect you with Pastor Katie Oskin.
· Two Association pastors’ groups in Southern Ohio have held their monthly meetings through Go To Meeting. If your Association pastors’ group would like to arrange this kind of meeting to replace your regularly scheduled meeting, please contact Mark in the South or Jane in the North and we will help you set this up.
Both of us are working from home and are available to help you as needed. Please call, text, personal message on Facebook, or email us if we can be helpful.
Finally, we want to request that you share what you are doing. This letter will be posted on the ABC Ohio website and Facebook. If you are sharing your worship service electronically, please post the link to your service on the ABC Ohio Facebook page so that other people may view what you are doing.
We continue to pray for God’s care, direction, and safekeeping for ABC Ohio congregations and pastors.
Rev. Jane Gibbons, Executive Minister for Program and Ministry Development
Rev. Mark Click, Executive Minister for Administration and Denominational Relations
American Baptist Churches of Ohio