By the Rev. Walter Cantwell
The beginning of the school year usually brings a sense of excitement and anticipation as our teachers and students return to school.
However, this year is different. All the questions surrounding in-person schooling and the potential impact the current scheduling will have on spreading COVID-19 left many people feeling helpless, frustrated and vulnerable.
A handful of pastors and church staff members in the Spartanburg District expressed hope that the church could use this opportunity to serve as a calming and reassuring presence during these challenging times. An exciting and inspiring idea came from their conversations.
Representatives from churches in the Spartanburg District contacted the school district superintendents in Spartanburg County for approval to hold a time of prayer at each district office simultaneously.
Every district superintendent approved the plan.
The Spartanburg District hosted a Celebration of Education on Sunday, Aug. 9, at the seven school district offices in Spartanburg County. The groups met in the parking lot of each office, practiced safe distancing, wore masks and prayed for teachers, students, administrators, support staff and volunteers.
Even the storms rolling through the area did not dampen their spirits or their prayers.
The afternoon storms may have discouraged some people from attending, but this time of community involvement provided a special opportunity for pastors to talk with school administrators and educators. “At District 3,” the Rev. Brian Humphries wrote, “our prayers enabled us to have conversations around how churches can best help schools now. We confessed that many of the traditional ways we have of helping will not work with COVID-19. I asked that educators please contact us, as we are trying to figure out how best to serve schools, students, teachers, staff, and families. We were thanked especially for our prayers for wisdom—how to proceed, when to stay the course, when to change and when to call things off. I stressed that we as churches would need wisdom, too.”
Vivian Ann Shaver, director of congregational care and community outreach at Lyman UMC, joined the prayer group at the District 5 office.
“It was reassuring to see people from our community be part of this special prayer service where we celebrated education. This season there are many unknowns,” Shaver said. “If we can support our district through prayer, and our community sees our faith in action, then hopefully they will draw closer to God and one another to combat fear and anxiety.”
The Celebration of Education brought together the community, school leaders and churches to seek God’s blessing, guidance and protection.
At the District 6 office the Rev. Andrew Wolfe of St. James UMC noted, “We were blessed with the presence of Dr. Darryl Owings (district superintendent), Mr. Ken Kiser (deputy district superintendent) and other students, teachers, administrators and staff. The Rev. Cathy Mitchell (UMC Spartanburg District Superintendent) and a number of other clergy members also took part in this event to ensure the start to this school year is covered in prayer.”
The Rev. Brad Gray led the Celebration of Education at District 7. Gray reflected on the event by stating, “We provided the prayers to others present so that they, too, could help lead the group. It was great being able to hear different voices offering the same words across the entire county of Spartanburg. It provided us just another example of the amazing way the Holy Spirit is at work in these strange times.” Even during a global pandemic, there are creative ways we as the church can continue to embody the presence of Christ in the world.
Our conference is learning to minister to our communities in a new way during these times of social distancing. We are working together to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and keep each other safe.
The future of the church will be shaped by the ways we engage our communities, offer hope and share the love of Christ.
By the Rev. Walter Cantwell