Churches adjust to new normal as distance worship enters month three
By Jessica Brodie
With in-person church gatherings cancelled because of coronavirus through at least May 20, churches are settling in with a new routine of virtual connection. Across South Carolina, YouTube and Facebook Live worship services and Zoom ministry moments are quickly becoming the new normal, as other churches explore even more creative ideas, such as “TikTok Tuesdays” or “egg drops.”
Read on for our roundup of ways South Carolina United Methodist churches are sharing the Good News amid the pandemic.
Clemson UMC, Clemson
The Rev. Fran M. Elrod said her church is posting both traditional and modern services on Facebook and YouTube. Youth and children are gathering regularly using Zoom, and church staff are posting “meditation moments” three times a week on the church Facebook page using their own gifts of prayer, devotion or music. Small groups, including United Methodist Women, are also meeting virtually. Elrod sends a weekly church email with updates, they are accepting prayer requests online, and their newly formed Stephen Ministry Team, which recently “graduated” from their initial coursework, has stepped up in congregation care.
“Whew! When I type all of this out it’s hard to believe we have done so much in such a short amount of time,” Elrod said. “Has there been a learning curve? Yes! But we have remained faithfully connected as a staff team and as a community of faith! As a good Clemsonian would say, ‘We are all in this together!’”
Asbury-St. James UMC, Charleston
Herb Spear, church administrator, said their church did their first livestream March 22, airing on Facebook, YouTube and the church website, and continue their efforts after vastly positive feedback. “We thank God for the modern means of communication that are present so we can convey the Good News of Jesus Christ and to bring comfort to a troubled world today,” Spear said.
Calhoun Falls UMC, Calhoun Falls
The Rev. Franklin D. McCoy has been reaching out to every member of the church by phone to stay in touch and to be sure they are doing what they can do to stay clear of the coronavirus.
“I try to make sure each person, especially our more senior members have what they need: food, medicine,” he said. “If they do have need, they know to call their pastor and he will take whatever the need may be and leave it somewhere convenient to them without us making physical contact.”
He’s been encouraging them to watch church services on television, even services outside the denomination.
“I’m sure I’m not doing enough, but I am doing all I know to do,” McCoy said.
O’Neal Street UMC, Newberry
Amanda Richardson said her church now has a Facebook page and YouTube. On Easter, they did a “socially distant Easter flowering.” People brought flowers and added them to a cross placed outside the church. Also, since many members do not have internet or a computer, Richardson mails worship packets each week to all members with a letter from the pastor, an in-home worship bulletin and a sermon. In lieu of Easter lilies, the congregation was invited to give a donation in memory/honor of someone and the money be designated wherever they saw fit, such as Ministries or the General Fund.
“For small congregations with people who do not have internet, this worshiping while social distancing is hard! But we will make it through,” Richardson said.
Owings, Gray Court and Bramlett UMCs, Gray Court
The Rev. John Fahrney said his churches are holding “Parking Lot Church” Sundays. People stay in cars or sit in lawn chairs, and they use the front porch as a stage for speaking and music. “Attendance has been great, and it has been good medicine,” he said.
Inman UMC, Inman
The church launched a new website, www.inmanumcsc.org, right around the time the pandemic hit. They are also holding a devotional service every Sunday morning on Facebook Live, a Youth Zoom gathering Tuesday evenings, a Bible study with pastor Ed Stallworth on Wednesday evenings, and a weekly children’s lesson on their website. Members are also making cloth masks for those who need them, plus checking in with each other throughout the week.
“We are pulling together during this time of isolation,” said Vicki McCartha.
Goose Creek UMC, Goose Creek
The Rev. Debra Dowdle said they are doing all they can to stay connected, including daily encouraging Facebook posts, such as youth playing inspirational instrumental pieces, people sharing drawings, families singing songs together and poems and other pieces written by members and friends. They hold worship virtually including children’s time, videos and special music. They have had groceries delivered to the elderly and immune deficient by the younger adults.
Other members are sewing masks that are given to local hospitals and our members. Several small groups, including one for grief support, are meeting by video.
“It is so amazing how God works to bring us together even though we are physically apart. As many have said, the church is not the building. The church is the people,” Dowdle said.
Parnassus UMC, Blenheim
The Rev. Alex Stoops said his church has been conducting Bible study, Sunday school and abbreviated worship (message delivery with prayer) via Zoom.
“It started out with a handful of members but is growing,” Stoops said. ”Last Sunday we even had a visitor from Texas who enjoyed Love Feast with us.”
Ruffin Circuit, Ruffin
The Rev. Cheryl Yates said her churches are holding live worship services every Sunday, a Facebook Bible study of “Anxious for Nothing,” a phone committee that is calling all elderly members, online giving for tithes and offerings, weekly youth and children’s group Zoom meetings, a live Bible story reading on Monday and Wednesday evenings for children, a live Children’s Moment devotion at noon on Wednesdays.
Beyond that, they have delivered goodies to their local hospital weekly for those on the front line; for Easter they “egged” the homes of all their children and youth (delivering bags filled with candy-stuffed eggs, including one empty egg to remind them the tomb was empty because Jesus is alive; and have collected items to take to the Hampton County community hit hard by recent tornados.
“Through all of this we are reminded that we are the church, not the building, and there are so many ways available for us to share God’s love even though we have to social distance,” Yates said.
St. Matthews Charge, St. Matthews
The Rev. Lois Helms said her churches don’t have live streaming, so she has been posting Sunday services on YouTube. They also held a “parking lot service” on Easter. Someone brought a trailer bed, someone brought sound equipment, their musician brought her keyboard, someone brought flowers, and Helms did the preaching through a loudspeaker. Helms said the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department gave permission for them to do it as long as everyone stayed in their cars.
“We had non-members from the community, as well as church members attending. I counted 32 vehicles,” Helms said.
Shandon UMC, Columbia
The Rev. Shannon Bullion said her church is focusing hard on outreach. She has distributed her entire discretionary fund through outreach to Homeless No More to keep people from being put out on the streets. They have asked members to donate to Family Promise for the same reasons, and they are donating church Lenten Funds to local charities, including Epworth Children’s Home. They are also asking members to give to Harvest Hope and volunteer to serve in a drive-through emergency food bank where volunteers put food in the trunks or help bag products all while monitoring a safe distance.
To communicate, they utilize mass email, Constant Contact, their website and Facebook, and they have moved all services to livestream/online. In addition, they have instituted a prayer text feature.
“We are trying to maintain faithful social connection during this time of physical distancing,” Bullion said.
She said senior pastor the Rev. Smoke Kanipe has a sermon series on lessons from quarantine that has been extremely well received by church members. A recent title: “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Quarantine.” (Watch his sermons at www.youtube.com/user/SUMCLifeLine; his are in the traditional service videos.)
Grace UMC, North Augusta
Yolanda McCabe, director of children and family ministries, organized an alternative Easter egg hunt, called “You’ve Been Egged,” with church families after she found out children were disappointed their regular egg hunt had to be cancelled because of social distancing requirements.
Church staff dropped Easter eggs in the families’ front yards, plus left a family goody bag with crafts and an Easter devotion.
“It was so incredibly satisfying to see the pictures and videos of the children getting so excited with our ‘You’ve been Egged’ social distancing Easter activity! My heart was full of love for the day,” McCabe said. “This certainly is a crazy time that we are living in. God designed people to thrive when we are socializing with one another. We are not meant to be alone and isolated from one another. I am thankful for the technology that we do have to keep us temporarily connected with one another. This is certainly forcing me to think outside of the box!”
Beverly Blevins, director of adult ministries, said their Bible Studies Series lessons, along with hymn singing, are taped weekly by class members and put on church website, as well as emailed to all Sunday school classes. Small groups—including their ukulele class—are connecting through Zoom and other virtual methods. Others are keeping in contact through texts and phone calls.
Many church members are making masks and holding prayer walks, as well as collecting food for their local food pantry.
Winthrop Wesley Foundation
The Rev. Ricky Howell is doing weekly “Drawvotionals” where he posts videos with a short devotion accompanied by a drawing that goes with the topic and Scripture (view the first video at https://youtu.be/
Uzn8d5BqJ14). He’s also encouraging students to create cards or write notes to people in healthcare thanking them and offering encouragement.
Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington
In addition to online worship services, Bible studies, student ministry and more, senior pastor the Rev. Jeff Kersey said the church has invited six of their partners around the world to share as part of Mount Horeb’s current Ascension sermon series. The partners—from Liberia, India, Indonesia, Eastern Europe and Asia—are sharing a COVID-19 video report and prayers from their part of the globe.
Pendleton UMC, Pendleton
The Rev. Mel Arant said his church organized a community ministry making groceries available to families identified by the school district as possibly needing help. Some church members started an initiative asking persons who don’t necessarily need their stimulus check to donate it to the church to help others who can’t pay utility bills. Another church group has made more than 500 masks for the local hospital, which has requested an additional 2,000.
Also, their children’s ministry, youth and adults meet weekly via Zoom, Google Hangouts or conference call.
Lake Point UMC, Lake City
The Rev. Willie Lawson said his church is “very blessed.” He’s been giving a devotional message on Facebook each Sunday, which he plans to continue until they can gather again in person.
Nichols UMC, Nichols
The Rev. Tim Burleson said they have launched a church website (www.nicholsumc.com) and started an online worship at noon on Sundays, with roughly 100 people worshipping with with them weekly from across the globe. He has also started a weekday video blog called “From Six Feet Away.”
Mount Carmel UMC, Bamberg
The Rev. Nathan Smalls said they have held “car church” with much success. Attendees drove to the church but stayed in their cars as a husband-wife team, Anthony and Nancy Rivers, gave a devotion. Smalls then delivered the morning message from another podium. They used a portable amplifier that was borrowed. A representative from each car deposited their offering in a tithe bucket.
“This was our way of practicing social distancing while having an hour of fellowship,” Smalls said.
Anderson Circuit, Anderson
The Rev. Annie Jackson has been organizing creative ways for her churches to say connected. Right before Easter they held a “shoebox worship,” where members were asked to bring an empty shoebox that would represent the empty tomb; she placed Scripture on the resurrection in the boxes for them to read early Sunday morning. The following week, she asked members to bring an empty water bottle, in which she placed her typed message for Sunday.
Advent UMC, Simpsonville
The Rev. Laura-Allen Kerlin said they already livestreamed their worship services every Sunday, so that was less of an adjustment for them. Because of that, she said, the church has been able to put more energy into connecting with people in other ways.
Student ministry goes live on Instagram every Monday and Wednesday, and their director of children’s ministry goes live every weekday on Facebook. Their adult discipleship team has been sending weekly devotions to all group leaders.
In addition, every Tuesday is “TikTok Tuesday,” with various staff members filming a fun, 15-second video on TikTok that they then share on social media. On Wednesdays, Kerlin and the Rev. Michael Turner go live on Facebook for “What’s Up Wednesday.”
Franklin UMC, Denmark
The Rev. Minnie Anderson is doing a once-a-week YouTube message and posting an inspirational word on the church’s Facebook account daily.
St. John’s UMC, Aiken
The Rev. Tim McClendon said his church is using YouTube to publish new sermons and combining traditional and contemporary music. During Holy Week they posted last year’s Living Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and Night of Shadows on Good Friday. Children and youth ministry staff and volunteers did door stoop drop-offs of Palm Sunday and Easter bags with palm fronds. Sunday school classes meet through Zoom, and they use Zoom for weekly staff meetings.
They also did their usual order of Easter lilies to support small business, donating the lilies to Aiken Regional Medical Center.
Smyrna UMC, Moncks Corner
The Rev. Bill Masciangelo said his church is using the One Call Now phone system to send out a daily Bible word of the day, which he said has been a huge hit. They do a Facebook Live worship service every Sunday morning that reaches far beyond their typical church attendance.
They also call people weekly and deliver food if requested.
Livingston-Pine Hill Charge, Livingston
They are posting online Sunday worship services on Facebook and YouTube. The Rev. Graham Bennett is also doing daily devotional callouts to every member with Scripture and news to share with both churches.
Bethany UMC, Charleston
The Rev. Cindy Muncie said her church is staying connected through its website, Facebook, online classes and meetings, and online giving.
Lamar UMC, Lamar
The Rev. Mark Bowling is posting daily devotionals on Lamar’s Facebook page as they “walk through” their current sermon series, “The Long and Winding Road,” following Jesus from Capernaum in Matthew 18 to Jerusalem, the cross and beyond. On Sunday mornings, Bowling posts a short video message.
They also did a “drive-thru” communion on Palm Sunday and “parking lot church” on Easter Sunday.