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.
This is a way of adapting leadership planning styles. The leadership team at New Season Christian Center has been adapting their approach to planning during the pandemic, planning upcoming events and initiatives in shorter periods rather than planning for an entire ministry year at once. At their recent leadership weekend in January, they gathered for prayer, worship, and to lay out plans for the next two months of ministry, seeking to use staff time wisely and create less burden for staff over changing plans as the pandemic continues to evolve.
This is a way of appreciating the gift of fellowship. The International Gospel Church of Connecticut celebrated being able to plan safe returns to some of their usual fellowship activities in 2021: Sunday services began to meet in person again in May 2021; they were able to have their summer picnic in August; and they held their annual Christmas outreach in December, making use of the stage in their new space for a Christmas play presentation. The pandemic has meant people were physically separated for quite some time, but this has made the church recognize that we are meant for fellowship. They have appreciated the great gift of coming together when it has been possible and safe.
Providing Vaccine Information to Churches
This is a way of providing information about COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Francis Collins, who has been Director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009 and who is a Christian, has spoken recently on a number of webinars answering common questions Christians have about vaccines, encouraging people to get vaccinated, and promoting best practices for churches that are reopening. Watch Dr. Collins speaking here.
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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.
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.
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.
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.