By JB Brayfindley
The brown paper bags have a square label emblazoned with the words, “Take Out Church” and sit in rows on a table awaiting delivery for this Saturday, March 29, 2020. Rose Steelman, office assistant at United Methodist Church of the Joyful Healer (UMCJH) is working on how the bags will be delivered to the 52 people on her list.
“We are organizing it by towns,” said Steelman. The church is situated in McKinleyville but has members from outlying towns including Trinidad, Fieldbrook, and Blue Lake. “This week, I will be delivering them along with the youth leader, Pastor April and Tony.”
“In a world where there are many ways to communicate and participate digitally, we are also cognizant of the fact that not everyone has the ability to stream services online,” writes April Sousa, Certified Lay Minister assigned to UMCJH, in an email and letter sent to members recently. UMCJH had already begun recording Sunday morning messages back in February for those who have access to the internet and might miss church services. Sousa explained, “…for that reason, we have created a “take out church” opportunity.”
Take Out Church started last week as an email and ‘snail mail’ that included elements of the weekly Sunday worship experience such as a written prayer, the scripture passage, and some reflection questions. Sousa also included a listing of prayer concerns for that week and instructions on how to make contributions. Since the sermon topic dealt with Jesus as the Bread of Life, a special family project sheet was included detailing how to make homemade ‘bread-in-a-bag’.
This week, the Take Out Church idea evolves into hand delivered brown paper bags. Each contains a “bulletin” with a message from the pastor, Order of Worship including a prayer, questions, scripture reading passage and reflection questions. The message is entitled, “I am the Light of the World,” and according to Steelman, the bag will have song lyrics and YouTube links, a prayer and meditative activity with a few post-it notes, a couple tea light candles, a coloring page with a few crayons, and a glow stick attached to a picture of a sun that says, ‘I am the Light of the World.’
“We will put palms in the bags for Palm Sunday,” added Sousa as she plans ahead trying to think ‘out of the box’. “They are already ordered and are coming in!”
“I wish I could be with you physically so that we could be worshipping together,” said Sousa in her message posted to social media. Her goal is to think about how to meet the needs of her congregation and each individual in it during this time apart. She goes on to encourage everyone to be people loving one another wherever they are and sums up her point by saying, “We are reminded that church is not a building or a specific time every week, but … a people.”
Churches can find creative ideas online and adapt them for their congregations and situations like UMCJH.
Sousa found the Take Out Church logo for her bags on a Columbia, Maryland’s First Presbyterian Church of Howard County website page dated for a children education activity back in 2018. Although the idea of a “Take Out Church” may have started at Harrisburg United Methodist Church in North Carolina as a summer Children’s Ministry in 2015 with boxes of activities for families on vacation, it continues to weave into a wider audience and now, in 2020 as a COVID-19 strategy of communion among UMC families on the north coast of California.
If you have ideas that are working and could be useful to other congregations, submit your ideas to the new Bulletin Board at the California-Nevada Conference website on the coronavirus page.
Click here to visit the Bulletin Board.