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.
Dancing in the Sanctuary
This is a way of engaging faith through art. Choreographer Lindsey Hanson created a site-specific dance work in the W83 Ministry Center sanctuary, home of her church, Redeemer West Side. The work, premiering July 9-10 in two free performances, explores themes of connection and perspective. After a year of pandemic social distancing, her work, titled Sanctuary, invites us to consider how we engage with spaces of worship, with one another, and how we define church beyond the walls of a building. Learn more here.
Yarn Circles and Civic Engagement
This is a way of doing art and justice in partnership with the church. Oversea Chinese Mission is partnering with Harlem-based fiber artist Naomi Lawrence, community organizer Tina Lin, Think!Chinatown, and Creative Sanctum to create a mural-sized yarn installation in Chinatown’s Columbus Park. Community members are invited to crochet leaves and flowers in virtual and in-person yarn circles while having discussions about civic engagement. The installation will be displayed during Chinatown Arts Week in October and will raise awareness on issues impacting the AAPI community. Learn more about how you can contribute to the yarn mural here.
Making Art Online Together
This is a way of creating art together. Since Spring 2020, the Walls-Ortiz Gallery and Center has hosted regular art-making gatherings over Zoom. Artist Naomi Lawrence led yarn circles, teaching members to create crocheted designs at home that now adorn the gate of the Fresh Oils Community Garden in Harlem; Gallery fellow Huibing He has led workshops on sketching and making collages out of recycled materials; and Harlem-based artist Omi Gray recently led two workshops on creating homemade beads from materials found at home. The art-making attracts people of all ages, from children to older adults, creating a restful, meaningful experience of making art in community online. Learn more and consider joining a future workshop here.
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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.
Church Choir Pandemic Perseverance
This is a way of ministering to the church body through music. The pandemic hasn’t stopped the choir at St. Mary Mother of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, from ministering through music. When the church reopened for services in October 2020, the choir also began holding in-person, socially distanced rehearsals. When COVID cases mounted again in NYC, the choir moved rehearsals to Zoom. The music director and organist plays from home on her electronic keyboard, and the ten choir members sing and practice together while muted, to avoid the confusion of audio delay. On Sundays, with masks and from socially distanced seats, they lead the church in entrance, offertory, meditative, and recessional hymns, as well as in responsive singing.
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.
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.
Children’s Art and Easter
This is a way of drawing children into worship through art. For Easter, Clare Wasserman of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church led Easter art making with children over Zoom. During Easter service, children displayed their work. After the service, they shared how their artwork, which included eggs, wreaths, donkeys, and a cross on a hill, symbolized elements of the Resurrection and Gospel message.
An Ovation for Essential Workers
This is a way of showing gratitude. In cities around the world, grateful home-bound residents are finding creative ways to show their support of essential workers - those who support healthcare, infrastructure, sanitation, groceries, etc. and who remain at the frontlines of a world changed by COVID-19. From applause to classical music, honking horns to homemade instruments and shouts of support, the world is showing what it means to be connected and grateful for daily sacrifices made for others' wellbeing. In New York City, at seven o'clock at night, listen for the sound of clapping, yelling, bugling, salsa and more.
Creating a Garden Together and Apart
This is a way of building community through art-making and conversation. Collaborating with street artist Naomi Lawrence (@naomirag), the Walls-Ortiz Gallery team has organized virtual yarn circles via Zoom on Tuesday afternoons and evenings in April and May 2020 to build a community through craft. The yarn flowers and leaves crocheted in apartments across the city will be collected and made into an outdoor yarn installation at the Fresh Oils Yarn Garden in Harlem. The Garden will become a space for in-person community conversations and more art-making when times allow those ways of being together again.
Flowers from a Neighbor
This is a way to see beauty in its many forms. A member of a downtown Manhattan church organized a WhatsApp group to connect church congregants in the same zip code. Her neighbor saw flowers being tossed out by a local store, and took them home to make beautiful handmade bouquets. These were in turn distributed (following social distance guidelines) to those in the church's neighborhood group.