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 email@example.com.
PERSISTENCE IN PRAYER AND BIBLE STUDY
This is a way of persisting in prayer and study of the Word. Pastor Adebisi Oyesile of Redeemed Christian Church of God Chapel of Hope in Brooklyn is navigating new decisions regarding in-person and virtual worship. He is seeking to encourage as many people as possible to come back safely to services and fellowship in person, while also maintaining opportunities for people to participate in the church's YouTube service livestream or online fellowship groups. With his wife, Abosede Oyesile, he has also maintained a daily, Monday through Saturday prayer call called "Morning Shower" through the entire pandemic, providing daily encouragement to the congregation in prayer from 6 AM - 6:15 AM. Their Bible study, "Digging Deep," has also had even more people attend since COVID began, as the online format makes it more accessible.
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.
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.
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Vaccine Information for Pastors
This is a way of providing information about the COVID-19 vaccine to pastors and churches. Christians and the Vaccine—led by Redeeming Babel and its founder, Curtis Chang—is an online resource that seeks to equip pastors and Christian leaders to help others apply biblical principles to their thinking on the COVID-19 vaccine and, based on these principles, encourage Christians to take the vaccine. They have developed short videos answering common spiritual questions and dialoguing with health experts and Christian leaders. Their Pastor’s Toolkit provides video and PDF resources for pastors to share with their congregations in a variety of ways.
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.
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.
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.
Moving Outside of a Silo
This is a way of being opened up to new ways of ministry. Rev. Jonathan Roque is the pastor of Damascus Christian Church in Hunts Point, the South Bronx. He realizes in this time an opportunity to think afresh about ministry, to move "out of my silo." Responding to his community, he's partnering with local networks, including a food pantry, to take groceries to people in need. He's thinking about leadership and the future of church life.
Chaplaincy in the Neighborhood
This is a way to be a neighborhood chaplain. Chaplain Adrienne Croskey is always on the go in her Harlem neighborhood, connecting with families, friends and neighbors. Now she is a chaplain in her neighborhood and city in a different way. She meets with people by phone and through prayer. She calls people in the hospital, praying with and for them. In these times, the days are often longer, but Pastor Adrienne continues to be present with the Gospel of "fresh oils" for the well-being of her neighborhood and city.
Caring for Neighbors
This is a way of caring for neighbors. Uptown Community Church in Washington Heights, pastored by Rev. Reyn Cabinte, is connecting church members and small groups to the needs of community and neighborhood. Following a check-in process, church members make pharmacy trips for their community and neighbors. Using Google sheets and docs, they have created different portfolios to be attentive to the most vulnerable, including the elderly, those in danger of eviction, and those facing possible unemployment. Learn more about Uptown Community Church at their website.
Going Small to Serve More
This is a way to serve members of a congregation. At Overseas Chinese Mission (OCM) in Manhattan, "virtual" small groups were formed to care for individual members on a more personal level. These small groups of 8-12 people are coming together via technology even if they cannot in person, still connecting and building community. In addition, pastors and elders are checking in regularly to make sure individual members, especially the elderly, have basic provisions. If not, they set up delivery services by connecting with those who live nearby. Learn more about OCM at their website.