“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3
James could have never known how meaningful these verses would become to churches around the world some 2,000 years after he penned them.
COVID-19 and the restrictions and mandates that have come along with it have been a trial for all of us and our houses of worship are no exception.
From being forced to completely shut their church doors to trying to decide the best time to reopen, the faith of pastors and church members around our area has been severely tested during the past six months.
Now that many have reopened, there are even more obstacles to overcome. One giant hurdle has been getting people back in the pews.
The Rev. Jack Russell of Trinity United Church of Christ in McConnellstown noted that before the shutdown, the church was averaging around 40 people Sunday mornings. Since the church has reopened, attendance has only been around 25-27 people.
The impact has been harder on the First United Methodist Church in Huntingdon who is missing about 70% of its congregation according to the Rev. Joe Fleck.
As minister of a mostly older congregation, Fleck concedes the pandemic has been taxing.
“It is a challenge to connect and stay connected with others during this time. The health, wellness and safety of everyone is a concern for us, and we are trying our best to provide the opportunity to gather and worship in a safe setting,” he explained.
He mentioned that their ministry of visitation in hospitals and extended care facilities has also been severely affected.
Like Fleck, Russell noted that there are some in his congregation who are older and health compromised who haven’t been out since the pandemic started.
He also noted that because they haven’t had children’s church since they reopened, some parents of young children may be reluctant to try to keep them still for the whole hour of church.
However, Russell also fears that for some, it may just be that “once you get out of the habit, it’s hard to get back in the habit.”
Regardless of the reasons, these men and their church boards are doing their best to brainstorm ideas to get their church families all back together again.
“We’re trying to get back to a more normal service,” stated Russell. “We are taking up offering again and having other people participate in the service. We had stopped doing that for a while so there was less contact. We’ve also talked about some youth activities or whole church activities we could have in which we could meet and still social distance.”
Fleck stated they are doing their best to provide a safe and healthy setting where parishioners will feel comfortable as they worship the Lord.
Even with all the challenges, there are still some positive outcomes from the pandemic.
“It has forced us to become more active on social media. Our Facebook page is more up to date, and we initiated our own website. We have been able to continue to put our services online,” explained Russell.
Fleck agreed that the utilization of online communication has been a blessing.
“This is new to us and we are constantly trusting the Lord to guide us to the resources available as we connect and stay connected,” he said.
“Hopefully,” added Russell, “it has also brought our people to depend more upon God and to look to him and pray for a cure for this virus.”
Both men are keeping a positive outlook for the days ahead.
“Hopefully, God can bring an end to this soon and we can all get back together in church,” exclaimed Russell.
“Our hopes for the future are based on God’s Word as recorded in the Bible,” said Fleck. “In Jeremiah 29:11, we find hope as we hear these words, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
“God has plans for us as individuals and collectively as a church, the Body of Christ, and we are striving to live God’s plans for us,” he continued. “By following Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we will move forward in ministry and with the work that God has for us to do in Huntingdon and the surrounding communities.”
Michelle can be reached at email@example.com.