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.
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.
Coming Back Together in Brooklyn
This is a way to regather in person. The Redeemed Christian Church of God International Center Brooklyn continues to stream worship services but also meets in person. People are beginning to come back, joyfully seeing one another in person. They worship together through singing, testimonies, and hearing the Word. All protocols are followed.
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Trilingual Masses at St. Aloysius
This is a way to worship together in multiple languages as one body. St. Aloysius Church in Harlem has been exploring more trilingual services—melding French, Spanish, and English together—for special occasions as they reopen following pandemic protocols. On May 2, one of the New York auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Edmund Whalen, presided at a Mass celebrating Confirmation and blessing the church which had been recently painted and renovated. The bishop is fluent in all three languages and during the liturgy moved among them smoothly. The Mass incorporated music in French, Spanish, and English, as well as some music in Swahili. In a year of distance from one another, the Mass was a beautiful celebration of harmony among different cultures in the body of Christ coming back together.
Reopening in Partnership
This is a way of partnering together to safely reopen Sunday church services. New Season Christian Center met in a public school building pre-pandemic. When they began to make plans to reopen, they needed to find another space to hold services as public schools were not issuing permits for community programs. They partnered with CONLICO, an organization that supports the Hispanic church community in the tri-state area, to hold hybrid services in their building in the South Bronx. Conlico’s space is large and allows ample room for congregants to spread out and worship safely together.
Praying Without Ceasing
This is a way of praying persistently every day, morning and evening. Redeemed Christian Church Church of God Chapel of Hope in Brooklyn began a daily prayer call at the beginning of the pandemic last year. The church’s ministers and members of the congregation—anywhere from 80 to 100 of them—meet on a conference call daily from 6 AM – 6:15 AM to pray together. The prayer call is open to all, and members of the church are encouraged to invite their friends and pray intentionally for their community. The ministers of the church also hold a call every night at 10 PM to pray specifically with people in the church who are sick.
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.
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.
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.
Easter Baptism in the Park
This is a way to participate in the sacraments safely during the pandemic. Emmanuel Presbyterian Church held an outdoor Easter morning service in St. Nicholas Park at 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. Some members gathered—socially distanced around pre-spaced guiding markers—for worship, a short sermon, and then took communion together. As a part of the service, they also conducted a baptism. Later that morning, the person who was baptized shared a testimony live on their Zoom service for the whole church body, who then had the chance to watch the video of the morning baptism together.
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.
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.
New Questions for the New Normal
This is a way of adjusting to the "new normal" in Paju City. The South Korean government recently allowed religious communities to re-gather with new guidelines, such as sanitizing the sanctuary, checking body temperatures before entering, keeping social distance, wearing facial masks during the meeting, and not eating inside the building. Members of Han-Gil Presbyterian Church in Paju City were excited to come back to the community, and the highlight for the reopening worship service was a birthday party. However, attendance for the first Sunday worship back together was low as some were still not sure of the dangers of the "new normal." Amidst this situation, the church was also being presented with new questions: Who would check body temperatures at the church entrance? Was it safe to use the microphone together? In the transition to worshiping together again, leaders and congregations are discerning with care what fellowship and community look like.
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.
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.
From Australia to Trinidad and Tobago
This is a way of encouraging women across the world. Sister Bola Oyesanya has been organizing "Intimate Time with Jesus" gatherings on Good Friday mornings for the past 4-5 years. What began as a non-denominational gathering for Christian women, held in her New York home's community space, expanded into local gatherings on multiple dates and locations. This year, over 60 women from all over the world - from Australia to South Africa, UK, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States - participated in a time of encouragement and affirmation, exploring examples of Biblical women for contemporary times over Zoom.
Meet Me at the Window
This is a way of gathering for sunrise service. Pastor May Lee and her Grace Alive Fellowship family met at their respective windows for sunrise service on Easter morning. While seeing different views and settings, they greeted Jesus at the empty tomb. As sunlight slowly illuminated the sky, the buildings, and the street, they were reminded to make time daily to sit with Jesus at the empty tomb, acknowledging the Hope Resurrection Sunday brings.
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.
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.”
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.