by Tom Sine
As we race into the 2020s, we have suddenly been awakened to an accelerating global COVID-19 Pandemic that few saw coming. Those of us in North America are rapidly joining countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East in dealing with this new Coronavirus Pandemic.
While most churches is the US have canceled services or re-routed their services on line, they have also instructed members of how to care for them selves and their families.
However, in checking a number of church web sites, fewer have outlined ways to also reach out to neighbors. Both established churches and new church plants need to join those reaching out to our neighbors; many of whom are facing a daunting range of new challenges.
Like the New Parish Community that is empowering churches to become community change makers, couldn’t your congregation join others in displaying the compassion of Christ?
These challenges provide an opportunity for all our churches to step up. It is an important opportunity to join those who are seeking to support families and individuals, not only in your congregation but also those in your neighborhoods who are at risk in a range of ways, in addition to COVID-19.
One possibility for your church is to “Partner with local, state or federal agencies or trusted non-profits with public health expertise to provide training on COVID-19 for members of your church or community. This could be conducted in person, or online through webinars for example.” (Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus [COVID-19])
Another possibility is for your church to join those that are particularly focusing on the underserved where you live. They may need help with health care costs, child care, food provision as well as assistance in connecting them to the appropriate health care providers during this health care crisis. Perhaps your church could collaborate with other churches in your community to develop these kind of resources for those who are underserved.
One of the most interesting examples I have come across is a cluster of churches outside of Chicago in a village called Wilmette on the North Shore. What is unique about this cluster of churches is they have, over time, learned to work together.
Like churches in all our communities, they have cancelled services. What is unusual, is the creative range of ways they are reaching out to neighbors that we could all learn from.
In “Wilmette, Kenilworth and other North Shore residents stand ready to assist their neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic. While religious services at area churches have been postponed, their outreach is still there for anyone who needs help”. For example, “Pastor Brian Smith, pastor at Wilmette’s Trinity United Methodist Church, is compiling a list of area residents who have offered their services to go to food or drug stores and buy groceries or get medications for senior citizens, the disabled or regularly housebound individuals who cannot do it themselves during the COVID-10 crisis.
‘We are here to help each other,’ Smith said. ‘It does not matter if the person is a member of our church.’ Those interested in volunteering their services to help for this purpose can contact Smith. . . He reminds the public Trinity’s regular services have been postponed but its food pantry is still open and available to those in need.”
Another pastor, “Rev. Wayne Watts. . . at Wilmette’s Saints Joseph and Francis Xavier Church, sent an email to parishioners and other interested individuals asking them to remember the many hourly wage earners and those who suffer loss of tips and other income because of the pandemic. ‘I am committed to feeding the hungry,’ he said. ‘If you would like to help, you can make a financial contribution.’
In his email message, Watts set up a link to where interested individuals can make a financial contribution to help with food security for those in need. If you know of anyone in our parish with a need, you can me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The community’s local website, nextdoor.com, already has several area residents offering their help to those in need. Many residents have asked about food for children attending local schools who are on free or reduced lunches.
‘We have just confirmed that at Avoca (Dist. 37), we will be offering take-away lunches for families who qualify for free-or-reduced lunch waivers-on days when remote learning is scheduled,’ said Kaine Osburn, superintendent of Dist. 37. ‘This is in addition to directing any family facing food insecurity to a local food bank. We will have more details as we get them.’” (“Wilmette, Kenilworth residents help each other during COVID-19 pandemic”)
Couldn’t your church join others who are reaching out to not only those in your congregation but your neighborhood as well? Imagine the difference you community could make in the lives of the vulnerable in your neighborhood.