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 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.
Growing a Food Pantry Through Partnership
This is a way of expanding the reach of a food pantry. True Holy Church, located in East New York, has run a busy food pantry for a number of years, serving an average of 2,700 people per month. After the first week of the pandemic, they have remained open continuously, seeking to meet the needs of their community. The pantry now serves 5,000 people per month, will soon move into a larger and more sustainable building, and is partnering regularly with three churches in Brooklyn and one in Queens to help them develop their own food pantries.
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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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.
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.
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.
A New Church Start and a Partnership During the Pandemic
This is a way of starting new church communities and partnering in ministry. Fresh Oils Ministries, founded and directed by Pastor Adrienne Croskey, is built on partnering with others, sharing gifts, and furthering the kingdom together. Prior to the pandemic, Pastor Adrienne began partnering with Minister Michelle Sweeting in Fresh Oils services twice per month. During the pandemic, and out of this partnership, Minister Michelle launched The People’s Church, and on Good Friday, held a joint service with Pastor Adrienne. They each spoke on three of Jesus’s words from the cross, and Minister Michelle’s husband spoke on the last word, uniting both newly born and established church communities during Holy Week.
Online Roundtables for Leaders
This is a way to equip leaders to better serve their communities. The Global Center for Transformational Leadership, directed by Dr. Ade Oyesile, seeks to spark innovative ideas among leaders, enabling leaders of faith and the marketplace to develop a deeper understanding of the people they lead. On Saturday March 27, GCFTL hosted an event on immigration and healthcare as a part of their online roundtable discussion series for leaders: Dr. Nelson Aluya spoke about “Demystifying COVID-19 and the Vaccine” and Attorney Toyin Omolola spoke as well.
pbb West Brighton, Staten Island
This is a way to pray for the city and neighborhood. During the pandemic, City Seminary of New York has continued to “pray and break bread” in neighborhoods around the city. On Thursday, April 8, 2021, using Zoom and live streaming, Edward Leung, a member of the Staten Island Chinese Christian Church, helped lead the pbb. He spoke about the different churches, parks, and aspects of community life on Staten Island, and then participants joined Zoom breakout rooms to pray.
An Interfaith Conversation: Supporting Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities
This is a way of supporting dialogue about justice between faith leaders. The Commission of Religious Leaders hosted an online conversation about supporting the AAPI communities in NYC with a panel of faith leaders, including Rev. Austin Woo of Oversea Chinese Mission. Rev. Woo spoke powerfully about the long history of anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S., going back 150 years since the Chinese Exclusion Act. He gave testimony to the work of the Oversea Chinese Mission church and its 60 years of ministry in the city.
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.
Providing Vaccines for Vulnerable Communities
This is a way of providing accessible vaccines to seniors. Vision Urbana is a grassroots organization of the Primitive Christian Church on the Lower East Side that has become increasingly focused on holistically serving the seniors in their neighborhood. They were approved to open a COVID-19 vaccination pod on the Lower East Side, providing vulnerable residents–including isolated seniors, immigrants and those who are not English proficient, and those who have little or no internet access–with vaccine access through a trusted community organization.
Dinner Church is Sharing
This is the way of sharing with one another. Rev. Dr. Mia Chang and Minister Steve Ku, of NextGen Church in New Jersey, have been visiting Trenton to share hot meals for families. This is "Dinner Church", one of their mission projects, which they increased from once a month before COVID to twice a month during COVID. The church community has been invited to join in two ways: they can give remotely or can buy extra groceries when they are buying for themselves and place items in the church donation box. According to Minister Ku, "The box has never been empty" and he explained that "people are ready to give" but looking for tangible ways of doing so. Learn more about NextGen Church here.
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.
Young Adults and Pastor in these Times
This is a way young adults are working through the challenges of this time. Monday nights at True Holy Church in East New York Brooklyn have become Refuge Mondays, a zoom gathering of young adults. During these weekly gatherings, the young adults discuss the challenges of the pandemic and racial injustices, and the pastor is able to join them, to listen and support. It's a space for growth, for challenge, for next steps.
In a COVID-19 Hot Zone
This is a way of serving the homeless and addicted persons from a social distance. At Recovery House of Worship in a particularly vulnerable section of Brooklyn, NY, the local homeless community is served through to-go bags and tracts and a basement shelter. In partnership, 200 bags of groceries for new immigrant families are delivered weekly to another local church. Pastor Edwin Colon is hopeful that despite the challenges, the pandemic will help people recognize their dependence on God. Read more here.
Remembering the Elderly
This is a way of caring for the elderly in the community. Living Faith Community Church is serving its local community in Flushing, Queens, through its community development corp (CDC), delivering food to those in need, particularly the elderly, and advocating for local nursing home residents (whom they have been volunteering with for almost 20 years) in a letter writing campaign to elected officials. Learn more about LFCC here.
Rethink Food and Community
This is a way of connecting excess food with those who need it. Conservative Chinese Baptist Church (CCBC) in lower Manhattan, NY, is partnering with Rethink Food, an organization with a creative mission to build a more equitable food system in New York City. Rethink Food is connecting local restaurants with community organizations to provide healthy, ready-to-eat meals for those who need them. Volunteers are needed to distribute meals on weekdays at the church. Learn more about Rethink Food or sign up here if you can volunteer.
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.
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.
Evening Prayers Live
This is a way to pray together to end the day. Rev. Christine Lee of St. Peter's Episcopal Church (Chelsea) has been leading Compline (evening prayers) twice a week at 9 PM via Facebook and Instagram live for several weeks now. This has been a way to bring together people near and far for an evening rhythm of reflection and prayer to close out the day.
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.
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.
Easter Outreach, Every Weekend
This is a way of feeding the city. Easter Outreach, a partnership of over 70 churches in the Greater Philly area that delivered more than 10,000 Easter meals in one day last year, has become a weekly "Service Saturday" to provide food to students, seniors, and low-income neighbors in their areas. Through the mobilization of volunteers donning masks and keeping a distance, coordination with city programs, and the expansion of its outreach sites, Easter Outreach extended the celebration of the resurrection through satisfying hunger beyond Easter weekend. Find out more here.
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.
Calling Many Neighbors
This is a way of sharing important health information in a neighborhood. In the Sandtown neighborhood of West Baltimore, lifetime resident Nina Anderson is calling her neighbors, making some one hundred phone calls. She is checking in to see how people are doing and reminding them to stay inside and stay healthy. "If you need something, say something," Nina tells everyone.
Coffee Beans and Community
This is a way of continuing community relationships as a church and a local business. Postmark Cafe, in Brooklyn, is the home of Church! of Park Slope on Sundays and a community mainstay for the rest of the week. In order to protect their neighbors and team, Postmark has been closed as a cafe and meeting place for Church! over the past couple weeks. Brad, one of the co-pastors and the only employee of the cafe space, is using best practices to keep the cafe open for customers for whole bean or ground coffee pickup or local delivery to support the community-centered space. Find out more here.
On the Way Ministry
This is a way of serving the homeless during these COVID-19 times. While many are able to stay home, this is not an option for homeless people in Athens, Greece. With a vision to care for the poor in the urban center of the city, First Greek Evangelical Church's "On the Way Ministry" provides care packages, grocery coupons, and hot meals in collaboration with other charities. Care packages are hung outside the church on railings for pickup, and a small group of volunteers distribute packages in places where the homeless live with care, wisdom, and precaution.This work may also lead to the beginning of a new church. Learn more about FGEC through their website. Because you are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you. Isaiah 43:4
Loaves, Fishes and Masks
This is a way of experiencing "the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes." Since wearing a facial mask has become an essential guideline for keeping society safe in South Korea, Rev. Young Doo Peter Kim, senior pastor of Han-Gil Church in Paju city, decided to share his personal face masks, the ten pieces that he had, to church members. His congregation is made up of mostly Ghanaian immigrants who have limited access to masks. This story spread through Facebook and many people are donating several boxes of masks to the church. To learn more about Han-Gil Church, visit their Facebook page.
Church Partners with Health Center
This is a way of a local church and health center working together. When Esperanza Health Center in Philadelphia, led by Susan Post, needed more masks, they asked members of Spirit and Truth Fellowship to make them. Dr. Sue Baker, a founder and leader at Spirit and Truth, responded by ordering elastic and pipe cleaners to go with the fabric being supplied. She hopes she can sew at least 100 masks. Learn more about the work of Esperanza Health Center in Philadelphia through their website.
Public Reading of Scripture
This is a way to hear God speak through the Scriptures in community. Drawing from the spiritual practice of the public reading of Scripture (I Timothy 4:13), this global movement encourages gatherings to hear the text read aloud in groups. With technology that enables virtual meetings and immersive dramatized readings via an app, the Public Reading of Scripture pairs longer passages from the Old and New Testaments with Psalms as prayers. Learn how to launch a Public Reading of Scripture by going to this website.
Pray Where You Are
This is a way to pray in community wherever you are. Continuing our commitment to pray for our city neighborhood by neighborhood, City Seminary has expanded the annual virtual pray and break bread, NYC to a weekly Wednesday morning community prayer Zoom, and replaced our scheduled neighborhood prayer walks in March and April with a virtual pbb.WHERE YOU ARE. Whether walking the streets (following social distance guidelines), at home or at work, on Zoom together or offline, we invite participants to pray in solidarity for the wellbeing of people around and places they are in. This is an example of a handout to guide the time.
Being Present to Healthcare Workers
This is a way to support medical professionals in a church. With many doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals attending the International Gospel Church, Pastor Geomon and Reji George have planned a special Zoom fellowship and prayer time to support them. In addition, from writing a personal note to having a telephone conversation, Pastor Geomon and Reji remind their members at International Gospel Church that they are not alone. They are journeying together.
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.
This is a way of mourning loss. Diaspora Indian Christian communities in New York City are modifying funeral rites by making personal videos and sending messages via Whatsapp and Facebook. These chats are saved and passed onto family members. Through these little steps, a community is walking with the family experiencing loss and mourning together.
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.
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.
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.