The Rev. Dr. Robin Dease is superintendent of the Hartsville District of the United Methodist Church in South Carolina.
My district is located in one the most rural areas (Pee Dee) in South Carolina. The Hartsville District of the United Methodist Church is made of 104 small membership churches (18,000 members in six counties: Chesterfeild, Darlington, Kershaw, Lee, Marlboro, Sumter). Many of these communities are in areas with no internet, cable, or cell tower access. In an effort to stay connected to parishioners, clergy are finding new ways of being present for their congregations.
Local schools are parking school buses with wifi capabilities in communities so that students can have access to live streaming and their coursework.
Pastors have focused on innovation, not scarcity, in a desperate need to keep their members informed and encouraged in this uncertain time of COVID-19:
- In Sumter, South Carolina (Aldersgate United Methodist Church), one of our pastors created the Sumter Cross Project: inviting persons to decorate a cross and place it one their front lawn Easter Sunday to share their faith and the good news of the gospel, Christ has risen!
- Churches are planning drive-in worship. Persons can come and sit in their cars as they would for a drive-in movie and hear prayers, music and the preached word while maintaining social distance.
- Telephone conferencing has been a way for church members to share prayer concerns, pastors to conduct Bible Studies and needed meetings.
- Facebook Live, Zoom meetings and virtual recordings are used to give members virtual hugs, prayers, music, scripture readings and devotionals.
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Because the UMC has prohibited serving the Holy Eucharist until we can gather again as a people of faith in our spaces of worship, many pastors and parishioners are grieving the inability to celebrate and share in the sacrament.
The smallest churches who lack technological skills and resources have leaders showing up during the week to collect offering. Members drive up to the front door and drop their gifts into a basket. Honoring social distance, the pastor greets them and gives a blessing to everyone in the car as they drive off.
Sister churches with more resources have been offering support by allowing pastors to record sermons and burn CDs and DVDs to provide to their parishioners.
Yes, we are learning to adapt to the changing landscape of our current reality. We are even being drawn closer together in this season of social distancing. Everyone is learning to reinvent himself or herself during this pandemic. Yet, one thing remains constant and never changing — that is the ability of God to be present showing Godself everywhere and in everything. That is resurrection language. This is resurrection hope!