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.
Supporting Pastors in India
This is a way to support pastors across India. Many churches and organizations, such as International Gospel Church, are finding that Zoom has opened permanent new possibilities globally. IGC was founded in 1998 by first generation diaspora Indian pentecostals living in the U.S., and now has churches in 12 Indian states with over 100 pastors. During the pandemic, different states have started individual online gatherings, including Zoom prayer meetings every Monday through Friday (state of Kerala) and Saturday (states of Karnataka, Andhra, and Telegana). Pastors from across the country who would not normally be able to see each other—even prior to the pandemic—encourage one another in a time of prayer, worship, Scripture, and brief messages. There are also special meetings to support pastors’ spouses.
Rally to Remember
This is a way of praying over injustice together. On Tuesday May 25, The Gathering Harlem held “Rally to Remember,” an event remembering the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and dedicated to all those who have been victims of racial injustice. The church gathered at the outdoor amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem to pray, remember, and reflect together.
New Prayer Ministry in Response to COVID
This is a way of responding to the COVID crisis in India. Juliya Joseph and Jerin Joe James recently started a prayer ministry called World Prayer Fellowship in May 2021. They gather people to meet on Zoom from 9:30 PM to 10 PM daily to pray for India during the COVID crisis, focusing the prayer time on one of the country's 29 states per day. Those who attend are specifically invited to pray in any language they would like, and most pray in English, Malayalam, or Tamil.
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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.
Praise in the Park
This is a way of seeking the peace of the city through praise and prayer in a local Harlem park. On April 22, Garden of Gethsemane Ministries, led by Apostle Dr. Staci Ramos, hosted “Seek the Peace of the City: Prayer and Praise in the Park!” in Colonel Charles Young Park in Harlem. The event sought to unite the local church, the wider community, and the police. Wearing masks and social distancing was required.
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.
pbb West Brighton, Staten Island
This is a way to pray for the city and neighborhood. During the pandemic, City Seminary of New York has continued to “pray and break bread” in neighborhoods around the city. On Thursday, April 8, 2021, using Zoom and live streaming, Edward Leung, a member of the Staten Island Chinese Christian Church, helped lead the pbb. He spoke about the different churches, parks, and aspects of community life on Staten Island, and then participants joined Zoom breakout rooms to pray.
Prayer Calls from the Pulpit
This is a way to support a church community through prayer. The pastoral team at Iglesia Pentecostal Camino a Damasco on East 4th Street has been leading weekly prayer meetings in their sanctuary. Members are welcome to join in person, observing COVID protocols, but the prayer meeting leaders also make phone calls to church members from the pulpit. They call members during the meeting as the Lord brings their needs to mind and ask if they can pray for them on the spot. They then follow up later on any needs that they learned of.
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.
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.
Evening Prayers Live
This is a way to pray together to end the day. Rev. Christine Lee of St. Peter's Episcopal Church (Chelsea) has been leading Compline (evening prayers) twice a week at 9 PM via Facebook and Instagram live for several weeks now. This has been a way to bring together people near and far for an evening rhythm of reflection and prayer to close out the day.
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.
Praying on the Hour
This is a way of praying collectively. At the Redeemed Christian Church of God Chapel of Hope in Brooklyn, Pastor Adebisi emphasizes prayer and fasting. With the pandemic, he now encourages congregants not to fast as usual. He has suggested instead that congregants eat regularly and pray for three minutes each hour to intercede for the health of their communities and world. Learn more about the Redeemed Christian Church of God Chapel of Hope through their website and visit their YouTube channel.
Evening Taizé Prayers
This is a way of doing evening prayers as a family. At the end of each day, just before the Gornik family turns in for the night, they light a candle, have a time of silence and prayer, read a Scripture text, and then sing a song from the Taizé community in France like “Bless the Lord,” “Jesus Christ, Bread of Life,” and “The Kingdom of God.” Learn more about Taizé at their website. Listen to “Bless the Lord.”
Pray Where You Are
This is a way to pray in community wherever you are. Continuing our commitment to pray for our city neighborhood by neighborhood, City Seminary has expanded the annual virtual pray and break bread, NYC to a weekly Wednesday morning community prayer Zoom, and replaced our scheduled neighborhood prayer walks in March and April with a virtual pbb.WHERE YOU ARE. Whether walking the streets (following social distance guidelines), at home or at work, on Zoom together or offline, we invite participants to pray in solidarity for the wellbeing of people around and places they are in. This is an example of a handout to guide the time.
This is a way of passing the prayer baton. Based in Harlem but connected to cities in Florida, Maryland, and the Caribbean, community pastor Apostle Staci Ramos organized a 3-day weekend prayer shut-in and fast with her church contacts. This enabled some to gather in small groups in person, according to social gathering recommendations in place at the time, and others to join over a conference call. Groups took turns to pass a virtual prayer baton from church to church over the 72 hours. She has now passed the baton on to a church in the Bronx.
Prayers of the People
This is a way of seeing and hearing the church throughout the city. At Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown, prayers from congregants around the city are pre-recorded at home. They are compiled into the Sunday worship service as a way of sharing and hearing from a range of voices from the congregation.