What does it mean to be church in the city in a time of COVID-19? Sustained by the Spirit is a project developed by City Seminary of New York listening to what is taking place on the ground, and sharing what we are beginning to learn. It is about attending to the ways the Spirit is sustaining us in love, hope, and lament.
We are all just beginning to find our way in this time, but a series of questions about faith, ministry, and community in the city have helped shape this effort. How is a world of Christianity in our city living out faith amidst this global pandemic? What can we learn from other cities? With church buildings and physical places of gathering closed, how are congregations engaging in worship, ministry, and mutual support? How are pastors continuing and changing ways of ministerial care? Where are the signs of generosity, resilience, and compassion in the city? Where are we in our spiritual journeys? We can even begin to wonder: how might the church and city change post COVID-19? How will we be transformed?
As we share this resource of stories and practices, please use this as a way of learning in community, for faithful ministry in this uncertain and challenging time. We hope that this resource might help you think about how to respond and engage faithfully to the challenges and possibilities facing us.
We also hope these stories, which will be added to in the days, weeks and months to come, will spark imagination, learning, and community, in ways that complement thoughtful resources for churches in this time of COVID-19 such as these compiled by Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and The Center for Congregations. Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning offers guidance on online teaching and learning, especially in the context of theological formation.
The Yale Youth Ministry Institute has many resources available, including a Guide to Taking Youth Ministry Online. Miroslav Volf and the Yale Center for Faith and Culture offer a podcast series available on Google, Spotify and Apple called For the Life of the World about faith in a time of pandemic.
Please share with us what you are doing and learning at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dinner Church is Sharing
This is the way of sharing with one another. Rev. Dr. Mia Chang and Minister Steve Ku, of NextGen Church in New Jersey, have been visiting Trenton to share hot meals for families. This is "Dinner Church", one of their mission projects, which they increased from once a month before COVID to twice a month during COVID. The church community has been invited to join in two ways: they can give remotely or can buy extra groceries when they are buying for themselves and place items in the church donation box. According to Minister Ku, "The box has never been empty" and he explained that "people are ready to give" but looking for tangible ways of doing so. Learn more about NextGen Church here.
Ghana, North America, and Australia
This is a way to pray for one another across continents. When the leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana wanted to check in with their North American and Australian pastors and churches, they held a meeting live on YouTube. As more than 500 people gathered, there was prayer, reflection, and updates from Ghana. Many of the challenges are the same across continents, some are different. But they are together in the work of the Gospel, and Ghana made a pastoral visit to their global flock, including churches in New York City.
Young Adults and Pastor in these Times
This is a way young adults are working through the challenges of this time. Monday nights at True Holy Church in East New York Brooklyn have become Refuge Mondays, a zoom gathering of young adults. During these weekly gatherings, the young adults discuss the challenges of the pandemic and racial injustices, and the pastor is able to join them, to listen and support. It's a space for growth, for challenge, for next steps.
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In a COVID-19 Hot Zone
This is a way of serving the homeless and addicted persons from a social distance. At Recovery House of Worship in a particularly vulnerable section of Brooklyn, NY, the local homeless community is served through to-go bags and tracts and a basement shelter. In partnership, 200 bags of groceries for new immigrant families are delivered weekly to another local church. Pastor Edwin Colon is hopeful that despite the challenges, the pandemic will help people recognize their dependence on God. Read more here.
Remembering the Elderly
This is a way of caring for the elderly in the community. Living Faith Community Church is serving its local community in Flushing, Queens, through its community development corp (CDC), delivering food to those in need, particularly the elderly, and advocating for local nursing home residents (whom they have been volunteering with for almost 20 years) in a letter writing campaign to elected officials. Learn more about LFCC here.
Praying for the World
This is a way of thinking about the times. Mother Marie Cooper, a leader in the Church of the Lord (Aladura) in North America, believes this is a time for prayer. So she prays for everyone she knows and the world. Always on her mind, she prays for the school she started and supports in Monrovia, Liberia, and the needs of its young people.
Rethink Food and Community
This is a way of connecting excess food with those who need it. Conservative Chinese Baptist Church (CCBC) in lower Manhattan, NY, is partnering with Rethink Food, an organization with a creative mission to build a more equitable food system in New York City. Rethink Food is connecting local restaurants with community organizations to provide healthy, ready-to-eat meals for those who need them. Volunteers are needed to distribute meals on weekdays at the church. Learn more about Rethink Food or sign up here if you can volunteer.
Chapel with the Community
This is a way of being a church in London. When formal gatherings at their care home chapel in Croydon, London, were shut down, Reverend Peter and Dee Price took the chapel to the people. As temporary chaplain, Peter began a weekly newsletter with prayers, stories, readings and contact information. They provided information on how to financially support local groups who serve the community. On Palm Sunday, Peter and Dee distributed crosses made of palm leaves. By being present and creative, they are showing a new way of being a church.
Crochet Ear Savers for First Responders
This is a way of using creative gifts for the community. InnerCHANGE missionary and street artist Naomi Lawrence (@naomirag) and her "Crafty Ladies" group in Harlem are crocheting "ear savers" for first responders to relieve the pressure caused by wearing masks over the ears. They are partnering with cafes that are already making deliveries to hospitals to pass on plastic bags of "ear savers" for healthcare workers.
The Bronx and India Together
This is a way to connect with local and global believers. Through different digital platforms, worship services by Indian Pentecostal churches in the Bronx and Connecticut area are now joined by people from many different parts of the United States and Kerala India, whose churches have also closed to comply with and protect the community's health. Through songs, reading scripture, praying and encouraging one another, they are able to stand in solidarity with others who cannot worship and fellowship together.
Ministry in the Virtual Living Room
This is a way to create space for ministry when a church building is not available. A few months ago, Zion NYC church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, lost their meeting space and had to transition to meeting in house church fashion. Because of their agility as a decentralized congregation, their 'ministry in the living room,' now via online communication, has led to designing new spiritual spaces to gather and deepened their practices of community, discipleship, creativity and prayer. From virtual lunch breaks to Zoom worship services, where they notice an increasing number of participants who have never heard the Gospel before, they are re-imagining ways to be church and community. Learn more here.
Prayer through the Night
This is a way of praying as vigil. Members of the Indian Pentecostal churches in the United States are joining different prayer lines throughout the 24 hours of the day, with each person signing up for a one-hour slot, praying for those impacted by the COVID-19 and those responding to this pandemic.
Easter Outreach, Every Weekend
This is a way of feeding the city. Easter Outreach, a partnership of over 70 churches in the Greater Philly area that delivered more than 10,000 Easter meals in one day last year, has become a weekly "Service Saturday" to provide food to students, seniors, and low-income neighbors in their areas. Through the mobilization of volunteers donning masks and keeping a distance, coordination with city programs, and the expansion of its outreach sites, Easter Outreach extended the celebration of the resurrection through satisfying hunger beyond Easter weekend. Find out more here.
Calling Many Neighbors
This is a way of sharing important health information in a neighborhood. In the Sandtown neighborhood of West Baltimore, lifetime resident Nina Anderson is calling her neighbors, making some one hundred phone calls. She is checking in to see how people are doing and reminding them to stay inside and stay healthy. "If you need something, say something," Nina tells everyone.
Being Present at a Hospital
This is a way of being present to families and staff at a hospital in the Bronx. Rev. Peter Acevedo, a member of the Damascus Council of Churches and a co-leader in Plus One Ministries, is a social worker at a hospital in a Bronx neighborhood facing the impact of COVID-19. Much of his time is given to caring compassionately for families who have someone in the hospital or have lost a loved one. But in this time of fear and anxiety, Peter is also able to pray with and support the staff around him. He comes home exhausted each night, resting to return to work the next day, strengthened in hope in God.
Coffee Beans and Community
This is a way of continuing community relationships as a church and a local business. Postmark Cafe, in Brooklyn, is the home of Church! of Park Slope on Sundays and a community mainstay for the rest of the week. In order to protect their neighbors and team, Postmark has been closed as a cafe and meeting place for Church! over the past couple weeks. Brad, one of the co-pastors and the only employee of the cafe space, is using best practices to keep the cafe open for customers for whole bean or ground coffee pickup or local delivery to support the community-centered space. Find out more here.
A Ready Online Sanctuary
This is a way of being a new "cross-cultural frontier." Pastor Joe Asmah of All Nations Church, a congregation with Ghanaian roots in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has been streaming Sunday Worship online for several years. "We are ready, God has been preparing us for this time." Before starting online worship on a recent Sunday morning, he prayed with the team in the offline sanctuary. His prayer was not only for God's healing intervention for the church members and the world, but also for the airwaves and online equipment to be soaked by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Weekly on-line "attendance" is growing. Learn more about All Nations here.
On the Way Ministry
This is a way of serving the homeless during these COVID-19 times. While many are able to stay home, this is not an option for homeless people in Athens, Greece. With a vision to care for the poor in the urban center of the city, First Greek Evangelical Church's "On the Way Ministry" provides care packages, grocery coupons, and hot meals in collaboration with other charities. Care packages are hung outside the church on railings for pickup, and a small group of volunteers distribute packages in places where the homeless live with care, wisdom, and precaution.This work may also lead to the beginning of a new church. Learn more about FGEC through their website. Because you are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you. Isaiah 43:4
Communicating Preventative Health Practices
This is a way to pass along the word on preventative health practices. In India, the leaders of Pentecostal church networks are calling and sending Whatsapp messages to fellow pastors. In these conversations, they are sharing basic preventative health information like how to wash hands and other safety precautions to practice every day. This is then shared with their congregations. Church leaders strongly believe that with this intersection of health and faith, they are able to more effectively contribute to slowing down the spread of COVID-19.
This is a way of doing youth ministry. In East Harlem, Miriam Acevedo is a leader in Plus One, a church-based ministry to youth. Because they are unable to meet in person, Miriam is in regular contact through phone, Facebook and Zoom, praying together in this time of pandemic and pause in the life of the city. The youth are already connecting through these media, so she has joined the conversation.