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.
As COVID-19 and its impact enter different phases, we will continue to update Sustained by the Spirit. Look for new additions as reopening continues and churches adapt and respond to serve the needs of their congregations and communities.
Please share with us what you are doing and learning at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a way of adapting leadership planning styles. The leadership team at New Season Christian Center has been adapting their approach to planning during the pandemic, planning upcoming events and initiatives in shorter periods rather than planning for an entire ministry year at once. At their recent leadership weekend in January, they gathered for prayer, worship, and to lay out plans for the next two months of ministry, seeking to use staff time wisely and create less burden for staff over changing plans as the pandemic continues to evolve.
SUPPORT THROUGH VIRTUAL ART-MAKING
This is a way of using artistic gifts to support one another. Huibing He, a retired Methodist pastor who now resides in Brooklyn, recently held a Zoom art workshop with the women's group at First United Methodist Church of Port Jefferson on Long Island. This group has become a source of great spiritual and emotional support to the women, as many members of the church community struggle with illness and other challenges. Pastor Huibing is a gifted artist who has led online art-workshops with the Walls-Ortiz Gallery at City Seminary, among other organizations. The women's group was so encouraged by this initial workshop, that they have since done another art-making workshop on their own, continuing to use artistic mediums as a means of connection and support.
This is a way of appreciating the gift of fellowship. The International Gospel Church of Connecticut celebrated being able to plan safe returns to some of their usual fellowship activities in 2021: Sunday services began to meet in person again in May 2021; they were able to have their summer picnic in August; and they held their annual Christmas outreach in December, making use of the stage in their new space for a Christmas play presentation. The pandemic has meant people were physically separated for quite some time, but this has made the church recognize that we are meant for fellowship. They have appreciated the great gift of coming together when it has been possible and safe.
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Growing a Food Pantry Through Partnership
This is a way of expanding the reach of a food pantry. True Holy Church, located in East New York, has run a busy food pantry for a number of years, serving an average of 2,700 people per month. After the first week of the pandemic, they have remained open continuously, seeking to meet the needs of their community. The pantry now serves 5,000 people per month, will soon move into a larger and more sustainable building, and is partnering regularly with three churches in Brooklyn and one in Queens to help them develop their own food pantries.
This is a way of worshipping together globally. Grace and Truth Ministry’s English Worship and Fellowship in Idukki, India began a few years ago as an in-person worship service. In January 2021, they began a permanent online service on Zoom open to anyone, consisting of prayer, songs of worship, Scripture, a short message from rotating pastors, and a time for children to share Bible verses they have memorized. Pastors from many different parts of India and Christians from around the world participate, providing both critical encouragement as COVID lockdowns continue in India and ongoing global connection even beyond the pandemic.
Supporting the Church in India During COVID-19 Crisis
This is a way of supporting the global church family through prayer and ministry. Geomon and Reji George (City Seminary Dean and Registrar / Bursar, respectively) are finding a variety of ways to support the church in India during the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic currently afflicting the country. Their church, International Gospel Church of Connecticut, is conducting a chain prayer for India until the second wave has passed. Their Tuesday night prayer as a church focuses on lifting up the COVID-19 crisis in India and the world. Geomon and Reji are working with over 100 pastors in India, joining them in Zoom prayer meetings and encouraging the pastors to be community health advocates. The George family and their church are seeking to be responsive to community needs, providing different resources like masks, finances, medical supplies, and more.
Faith, Family, Friends, Future
This is a way of continuing in prayerful ministry across generations. Oversea Chinese Mission, known as OCM, continues its historic mission of preaching the Gospel and forming people in Christian faith in New York. After recently renovating their building on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan with strict protocols, they are open for worship in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, while they continue to also stream services online. Adapting as needed, OCM continues in their mission.
Facebook Prayer Vigil
This is a way to persevere in prayer together. Love Gospel Assembly recently held a 24-hour prayer vigil on Facebook, creating an intentional space for persisting in prayer at the beginning of Holy Week. The church invited various ministry leaders—including some City Seminary alumni—to lead the vigil in turns. They prayed for specific needs and read Scripture together continuously, from 6pm March 29 to 6pm March 30.
Open Air Church in Bogotá
This is a way of reimagining a church building. Colombian architecture studio Colab-19 partnered with the Bogotá archdiocese to donate a new open-air church structure, Alhambra’s Cross, so people could worship together on Easter Sunday. The archdiocese connected Colab-19 to a local church in need, Parroquia Santa Maria de la Alhambra, who saw this as an exciting step towards reopening. The church structure is designed in the shape of a Greek cross and can be easily dismantled and reused, eliminating any waste. Outdoor chairs accommodating 60 people were arranged throughout the structure, between white mosquito netting that helped protect worshippers from weather and aided social distancing.
Backyard Baby Dedications and Pandemic-Era Baptisms
These are persistent ways of providing pastoral care. While True Holy Church’s services, Sunday School, Bible studies, and prayer meetings remain online for the time being, Pastor Vivian Grubb is finding creative ways to be with members of the True Holy community in person. He has visited families to hold at-home and backyard baby dedications; phoned members of the church for weekly check-ins and occasional meet-ups at the church building; and recently held the church’s first COVID-era baptism, partnering with another church to use their baptismal pool.
Discussing Faith Questions with Indian Americans
This is a way of answering questions about faith from the Indian American community. In July 2020, a group of next-generation Indian American Pentecostals—led by City Seminary Dean Geomon George, alumnus Rojan Sam, and Bursar/Registrar Reji George—launched Thirst for Truth Ministries’ monthly video series out of a desire to walk with the next generation of leaders among first generation Indian Americans. This series seeks to answer common questions they hear about the Christian faith from their communities, through both interview and artistic formats. The videos are then shared widely across YouTube, Facebook, and different Indian cable TV channels. Recently, they created a special online Easter production to share the message of Christ’s resurrection through songs and short reflections in Malayalam.
A New Church Start and a Partnership During the Pandemic
This is a way of starting new church communities and partnering in ministry. Fresh Oils Ministries, founded and directed by Pastor Adrienne Croskey, is built on partnering with others, sharing gifts, and furthering the kingdom together. Prior to the pandemic, Pastor Adrienne began partnering with Minister Michelle Sweeting in Fresh Oils services twice per month. During the pandemic, and out of this partnership, Minister Michelle launched The People’s Church, and on Good Friday, held a joint service with Pastor Adrienne. They each spoke on three of Jesus’s words from the cross, and Minister Michelle’s husband spoke on the last word, uniting both newly born and established church communities during Holy Week.
Home Worship Pods
This is a way of safely gathering for in-person fellowship with the body of believers. King's Cross Church in Queens recently reopened their in-person home worship pods after suspending them during the winter months. Their pods are structured as small, consistent, non-rotating groups that meet for in-person Sunday worship in a house or apartment setting, following COVID safety guidelines provided by the church. Learn more about King's Cross Church here.
Providing Vaccines for Vulnerable Communities
This is a way of providing accessible vaccines to seniors. Vision Urbana is a grassroots organization of the Primitive Christian Church on the Lower East Side that has become increasingly focused on holistically serving the seniors in their neighborhood. They were approved to open a COVID-19 vaccination pod on the Lower East Side, providing vulnerable residents–including isolated seniors, immigrants and those who are not English proficient, and those who have little or no internet access–with vaccine access through a trusted community organization.
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.
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.