Adjusting to a new lifestyle of social distancing, sheltering at home and avoiding gatherings, Salvationists in the Central Territory have navigated uncharted waters with thoughtfulness and creativity, finding new ways to connect and build each other up in the faith.
Officers across the territory in corps of every size and demographic have adapted ministry, using platforms like Zoom for live meetings such as Bible studies and prayer groups, posting Sunday services and messages of encouragement on YouTube and corps Facebook pages, and reaching out in tangible ways to encourage and support their corps members and communities.
“It’s challenging, but the challenges aren’t insurmountable,” said Captain Peter Mount, who leads the Royal Oak, Mich., Corps with his wife, Captain Catherine. “It’s being creative in our service, creative in our worship. We’re doing whatever it takes to connect with people and meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs.”
In addition to their own efforts, the Mounts also have organized their congregation to check on and uplift one another. Individuals make daily phone calls, while women’s ministries members send cards. Others deliver necessities to those who can’t risk leaving their homes. Young People’s Sergeant-Major Charol McDonald has been keeping families engaged with posts on the corps’ Kidz Facebook group, including resources, fun challenges and activities they can complete and share through photos.
“Maintaining a sense of unity is important,” said Captain Peter. “We are adapting every day to make sure people know they are still part of a community.”
Echoing these sentiments, Captain Sarah Windell, Jefferson City, Mo., corps officer, said, “Seeing others, whether on video chat or through a glass door, is encouraging and gives people some of the social interaction they’re missing.”
The Jefferson City Corps has been creatively leveraging online resources for ministry like vacation Bible school. Using a web-based curriculum, they created packages containing website links, craft materials and lessons to deliver to the homes of corps families and include in food pantry boxes.
Captain Roberto Davila, Dodge City, Kan., corps officer, reports having more face time with his congregation than ever thanks to Zoom. In lieu of hosting weekly programs, each day the corps gathers on Zoom for fellowship, prayer and devotions. The nightly virtual gatherings give way to Sunday morning worship, which is also held on Zoom.
“The meetings have been strengthening to the congregation,” said Captain Roberto. “It is an opportunity to grow closer together and closer to God. We are waiting on God with confidence and praising Him for what He is already doing.”
Majors Abe and Ronda Tamayo at the Wichita West Orchard, Kan., Corps are utilizing FM radio and the corps parking lot to host drive-in worship services. People simply park their cars, tune their radios to the right frequency and worship together from the safety of their individual vehicles. Honk to say amen!
“We had such a good response from corps members and neighbors after the first service that we plan to continue until the virus passes,” said Major Abe.
Territorial and divisional officers and employees have also risen to the challenge. Groups like the territorial praise band The Singing Company have hosted online informal praise sessions from their individual members’ homes, and territorial women’s ministries has taken to posting every weekday.
“We are ‘Reimagining women’s ministries for the short term’ by providing ideas to connect with women’s ministries groups and the community, helpful tips for meeting from a distance, encouragement and social media sharing,” said Heather Hanton, ministries specialist.
One of the exceptional efforts, PrayerCast, hails from the Indiana Division where Major Rachel Stouder, secretary for program, posts meaningful videos to the division’s Facebook page three times a week along with Phil Hull, divisional director of mission and spiritual development. The series consists of Meditation Monday, Worship Wednesday and Formation Friday.
“These PrayerCast efforts have been an opportunity for us to extend our reach,” said the major. “We have a unique opportunity in history to reimagine how we engage with and deploy our comrades.”
And, of course, soldiers across the territory are showing the power of the individual to make a difference by sharing their gifts, time and resources. For instance, exceedingly talented pianist Peter McBride has posted short concerts to his Facebook page, spreading hope and comfort through music to people all over the world.
“I am a big believer in live, corporate worship,” he said. “However, the reality of COVID-19 forced us all to adapt in many ways, including worship.”
Pete’s weekly 35 to 50-minute worship sessions consist of well-known and loved hymns and songs that speak to him. In response, he has heard from people who enjoy listening while they do devotions, pray or just sit in the Lord’s presence. He’s also heard from nonbelievers who have been stirred to start a dialogue about faith.