Vacant pews and silent choir lofts seem especially poignant as Easter Sunday approaches. Despite the absence of crowds in traditional Easter finery, there will be no shortage of services available as ministers and congregations have turned to technology.
Pastor Joe Mira, of First Baptist Cutler Ridge, detailed their approach. “The circumstances surrounding the Coronavirus have proven to push the churches in our community into a pretty unfamiliar territory. After all, churches are made up of people, people who are susceptible to viruses just like anyone else. So, in an effort to abide by the recommendations and rules issued by the CDC and Governor DeSantis, Sunday, March 15 was our last in-person worship service; we have gone strictly online now, like virtually every other church I know. We're using Facebook Live and Zoom to accommodate our church family and friends. Our Wednesday night and Sunday morning services are streamed live on Facebook at their usual times (Wednesday at 7 pm and Sunday at 10:45 am). Fortunately, we're having good success (perhaps because we were already doing this to a degree before these circumstances began). Our people have been incredibly faithful through this process, and, as a pastor, I'm incredibly proud of our church. We're praying and hoping that God will protect our church, our community, and our country from the negative effects of this terrible virus and shorten its timetable.”
In addition to their website https://www.fbccr.com/, (305) 235-2133, they can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
Bishop Irene Harris of Greater St. Matthews in Florida City is also president of the Southeast Dade Ministerial Alliance (SEDMA), an organization of Florida City/Homestead/South Dade pastors.
“The pastors follow the guidelines to the best of our ability. The central thing for the church world is to save lives and that is not just spiritual. Keeping people alive and safe is what is important. We are using prayer lines, conference calls, Bible Study from homes, different apps, and Zoom. Most are using Facebook Live for sermons and maintaining their regular schedules. We are together, simply staying connected through other means. In cases where there is a need to be in the sanctuary, those are small gatherings with social distancing in place.”
They continue to minister to physical needs as well.
“Different organizations are helping with food for us to have Grab and Go meals to provide for people.”
The severe economic impact, friends and loved ones who are ill or have passed away, and other unknowns are having the expected effects though.
“In my church we are hearing about depression, loneliness and frustration.
I reassure, speaking to bring peace in their hearts and to their minds. We are here for them and we will come through this.”
Their website of https://greatersmhc.weebly.com and Greater St Matthews Church can be followed on Facebook or reached at (305) 245-6505.
“We have been recording our services ahead of time and then uploading them onto YouTube,” Pastor Matt Floyd of Calvary Baptist Church in Homestead explained. “I send a text to our church people when it is available. I have also been uploading some short videos with beautiful scenery and nature from South Florida with a chapter of the Bible being read. We are also using this as a way to reach out to people who might not ordinarily come to church but need hope and comfort. Our people can call in for time of prayer on a conference call. We are also offering to go to the grocery store or pharmacy for anyone that cannot or should not go out. As a small church we have never had large resources and this is a difficult time, but we are relying on God as we always have. Our website is calvaryflorida.com and our YouTube videos can easily be seen there. Also at the end of each of my messages I have been urging people to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if they need prayer or anything else.”
They, too, can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and reached at (305) 928-4494.
Pastor Chris Coppola of City Church in Homestead has quickly learned new skills.
“We’ve had a website and been on Facebook for some time, but we weren’t familiar with live streaming and Zoom,” he said.
Not surprisingly, colleagues are having on-going conversations. “About half of us are seeing an increase with people responding who don’t routinely attend church. I began live streaming sermons using Facebook Live, with just my
I-phone and a wireless microphone. Our audio expert comes in wearing mask and gloves and after the sermon he uploads it for people to watch later.”
With the initial success, he’s added two more ways of connecting.
“We put the word out for Zoom Chats. These are for individuals to join in and talk about whatever they want, to pass the word if they know someone with the virus, or have a need.”
Most recently are Tuesday and Thursday devotionals. The email was sent out this week.
“While we’re staying at home in our war against COVID-19 I thought some of you might want to join me online via Zoom app on Tuesday mornings at 9:30 a.m. and/or Thursdays at noon for a brief devotional from Scripture,
discussion and a time of prayer? Each session will be different and will last 30 - 45 min. If you would like to join me for both devotionals during the week, great! For those who would like to join, simply email me at email@example.com and let me know what day you’ll be joining and I will send you the link from my Zoom account for that day’s session. All you have to do is click on the zoom link and your there! It’s that simple.”
Their website is https://citychurchhomestead.org/, (305) 247-9326. They can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The congregation of Homestead Mennonite Church was initially able to social distance within the church. As restrictions increased, Pastor Rick Lee developed what now meets their needs.
“So this past week, Palm Sunday, we met through ZOOM. About 22 of us met virtually in the Zoom Room. We reshaped our service boldly. But we still wanted to worship. We sang worship songs, had times of corporate confession, passing the peace, catching up with each other. We offered communion, which is a weekly practice for us these days.
And of course I spoke to the congregation. I taught them about prayers of Lament, which for Christians is based on Trust in God. With that confidence, in times of trial or hardship we can pray prayers of lamentation.” (Psalm 13:1-13:5–6).
In asking about responding to individual because of the restrictions, actions include those here and some who have relocated.
“We find ourselves naturally adjusting to the increasing needs of others. We contact each other more often. Our regular business and bible study meetings seem to be moving to virtual rooms. This has allowed some folks to join us who no longer live in the area, a great happiness and encouragement to some. I see some shopping for others and delivering groceries, contacting each other, including the most vulnerable among us more frequently. etc.”
His points as to how their church will sustain through the uncertainty reflect on previous crisis.
“A conviction of mine that the world will find difficult to grasp is that nothing that truly matters is ever at risk. The church may suffer, but God will remain faithful to himself. We exist according to his will, not according to our own survival skills and capacities. Some of us have learned that through life experience, looking at history, studying God's Word and growing in our relationship with Him. We've been small and large, rich and poor, young and old. Our building has been burnt down at one point, and survived Hurricane Andrew at another point. We'll continue to depend on God for our existence, our opportunities for service and witness.”
Their website is https://hmc.business.site/, (305) 248-1659 and follow them on Facebook.
On a closing note, although some of the financial programs currently being offered are available to churches, they have made the decision not to apply.
“We choose to depend on God and God's family, rather than on anyone or anything else. We're not as good at that as we'd like to be. But we are going to be as good at that as we can be. Churches start and cease and divide and multiply all the time. We are not immune to those processes. We don't need to be. The Church universal has always ever expanded and strengthened throughout the world and throughout history.
It will continue to do so. The rise or fall of any individual congregation is not the main point. We are happy to play our role in the Kingdom of God.”