Local Church Gears Up for Holy Week and Easter Celebrations with Increased Participation

April 09, 2020

By JB Brayfindley
“Cameras, sound bytes … we’ve had to gear up to do this,” said Rev. Dr. Lois Black, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Yuba City. Black is no stranger to adapting to new things and has often encouraged her congregation with phrases like, ‘We’re just going to do something a little different today.’
Even though the church had been livestreaming worship services for more than five years, Black noted that new things had to happen in light of the recent restrictions. She said, “we’ve had to change our ways of doing things to still interact and have community.”
Since the COVID-19 shelter in place directive, the church has found new ways to support current ministries and add new ones by hosting Zoom conferencing Bible studies, a children’s worship channel on YouTube and offering daily online pastoral meditations. This week the church will also add virtual livestreaming of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.
“I am not a professional at this; I don’t look at the camera—connecting is harder…but we are learning every time we do something…and we make mistakes,” Black added. One mistake occurred just last Sunday making communion preparations more difficult than planned.  The communion supplies, mailed to church members on Monday, were returned postage due on Friday. So, instead of paying $3.80 a piece for postage, all the packages were hand delivered.
“Overall, the church has been really flexible and are thankful for how quickly we geared up to do all this,” said Black noting that it has been difficult to continually adapt to county restrictions which may change in the course of a day or two. “We are having to be both reactive and proactive.”
With only a 24 hour turn around, staff added the church’s first hourlong Zoom conferencing Bible Study on March 18th after sending staff home the day before. Then, as quickly as possible, other online activities were added including daily “Lenten Garden Meditations.” This pastor led reflection, now viewed on YouTube, had been, formerly, an unrealized ministry goal.
“We have days when we work on the vision of the church,” explained Black. “And we didn’t’ know how we were going to do [the pastoral meditation] because we didn’t have all the pieces in place and the time wasn’t right. But, guess what? We’re doing it!”
Palm Sunday saw the third installment of the First Kid’s Worship Easter series on YouTube. The original idea started as a creative Sunday School program with the byline, “Jesus. Music. Games. Art. Snacks. Serious Cases of the Giggles.” It was the brainchild of Margo Black, the Kid’s First Coordinator, this last summer and was added to the curriculum in October. Now, it has its’ own YouTube spot.
“I am really excited to explore new venues,” said Margo, who is a teacher and child psychologist. “It is fun to meet kids on their level making Jesus accessible to them.”
And, the church’s online participation has grown exponentially over the last three weeks. Last year, the average log ins for worship streaming was between 15 to 30. On March 22, that number grew to 182 and, the next week, it grew to 364 (195 Livestream, 112 Facebook and 57 watched First Kid’s Worship). By Palm Sunday, log in figures reached 547.
“We had no idea what God was going to do with this,” recalls Rev. Black thinking about the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on the church’s ministry. Black and Associate Pastor Julie Raridan look over the growing numbers of online participants together.  “The first time I saw [the numbers] I said to Julie, ‘I hope this is prophetic, this can’t be true.’ But it is…we are reaching more people.”
Some online comments the church has received from the people it has reached include:

  • From one who shared the bishop's request for prayer at noon Wednesday with family, "I want to praise God he just gave me the best opportunity to share him with my family. I just sent them the message that we got from the Bishop about praying the Lord’s Prayer and then sent them the Prayer. They aren't Christian but everyone so far has sent back a positive response.  praising God."
  • From one who appreciated the caring call from the church office, "... thanks for the phone message in midst of this health crisis. I was able to view Sunday's service via live stream.  It was very comforting to hear Pastor Julie's message in the midst of all that's going on now.  Take care of yourself, your family, as well as our church family as a whole. Hope we will be able to get back to normal real soon." 
  • From one who watched the Livestream service, “I was touched by the sermon and it gave me hope while my husband is in the hospital with COVID 19.”
  • Heard during a Zoom Bible Study, “I really appreciated while I was walking a couple from the church gave me words of encouragement.”
  • From one out ill on a Sunday morning, "Watched the live stream, so glad it is out there. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. Touched me where I needed it most. God bless you!" 
  • From one who attended services, "Thank you for having services today.  It is so nice to have a place that feels normal [when the world doesn't]."
  • From one new to the church, “I am glad we had worship, We need it like we need breathing. It is a breath of fresh air.”
  • From one who has been anxious, “Thank you for church needed normal. I listen to the news and get wrapped up and needed the reminder.”