Webinar Sheds Light on Cultivating Community in Isolation

May 07, 2020

Alternating between topics on local church program or ministries and administrative issues, the California Nevada United Methodist Annual Conference has presented webinars each Wednesday at 4 p.m. followed by a Q & A session since April 1st, 2020. These weekly events are hosted by Rev. Craig Brown, Director of Congregational Development.
 
Including Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, more than 100 people participated in the webinar on May 6.  Online participation ranged from as far west as Ft. Bragg, California to as far east as Sparks, Nevada. The discussion focused on nurturing and growing community amid the challenges of sheltering in place.
 
This week’s session was the first to feature a discussion among several panelists. Rev. Sadie Stone of Bethany UMC in San Francisco, Rev. Michael Harrell, serving Foothills UMC, and Rev. Michael Yoshii, pastor of Buena Vista UMC in Alameda were the featured speakers.
 
One of the questions Brown asked the panel was, “What are some of the new ministries that have emerged since Covid-19, besides online Sunday worship services?”
 
“We launched initiatives to keep sharing,” said Harrell, who had members submit photos of where they are finding God in their lives during this time and created an online slideshow. In the same way, the congregation made a virtual Easter card to share with each other. This week, they have collaborated on a “Mother’s Wisdom” slideshow to share. The church took their regular events online including Zoom Sunday School, a book club and parent group meeting.
 
Buena Vista UMC conducted a membership survey online to assess needs to organize action groups. They started Zoom Bible Studies and online Saturday family gatherings. Everyday there is a prayer circle at noon and whether online or not, everyone can participate. The Breeze software has enabled the church to form regional gatherings that will be used to celebrate Rev. Yoshii’s retirement as well as greet the new pastor in July.
 
“We formed connecting groups,” said Rev. Stone and reflected on the different ways that each group works. “Depends on the person. Sometimes it’s email, sometimes it’s a phone call, other times, Zoom. I change it up knowing that for some of my folks still working, Zoom fatigue is real and so an email or phone call is more welcome, but old folks welcome Zoom.”
 
The online presence has added to each church’s community.
 
“Our outreach has grown…exponentially. People can share links with family, friends, neighbors…” noted Rev. Harrell who reported an increase in financial donations from new people. He recalled one in particular. “They said: ‘Use this money where it can get the most use.”
 
“For the first time, people are sharing—asking others to come to their church!” added Stone who noted that Bethany UMC is having a broader reach. “We’ve even re-connected with those who have moved away … more people are getting to touch the fabric of our church … we’ve been given a platform … the whole world sees it.”
 
The pastors shared that new leaders have emerged over this time as new needs arise, and different people have an opportunity to share their gifts and talents.
 
“It’s been a huge success to connect folks digitally,” added special guest, Rev. Staci Current, District Superintendent of the Bay District. She noted that laity who had already been using such platforms as Facebook facilitated the move to an online community for those churches who previously did not have an online presence. Current noted that it has been an important way to reconnect with seniors as well as the rest of the congregation. “Those older people not able to come to church are able to connect in a way they’ve been unable to do before.”
 
For further information on this webinar and previous webinars, go to the conference website at cnumc.org. Click on the “Webinars” tab in the column on the right side of the home page. Webinars are recorded and available at no cost.
 
Next Wednesday’s webinar, “Administering the Church” will be conducted by Rev. Debra Brady, District Superintendent of the Central Valley and Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, District Superintendent of the Los Rios District. The discussion focuses on the question, “How to keep churches alive in a time when buildings are closed?” It aims to offer tools and tips to help keep administrative teams on point and responding to issues as they arise, using strengths of our staff and laity as well as adapting to the current realities.
 
Register here.
 
Previous webinars available on the conference website include:
“Financial Safety Nets for Local Churches” with Diane Knudsen, Executive Director of Finance and Administration;
“Laith & Clergy Partnerships in the Age of Social Distancing” with Micheal Pope, Conference Lay Leader;
“Addressing Mission and Stewardship in Online Gatherings with Rev. Ani Missiriani-Wilson serving First UMC, Modesto;
“Pensions & Health Care Uncertainty” with Paul Extrum-Fernandez, Chief Benefits Officer of the Board of Pensions.