Local Churches Welcome New Pastors Online and on Porches During Covid-19

July 16, 2020

 “It is a real challenge,” said Pastor Dennis Hutson newly appointed to Armona and Lemoore United Methodist churches this summer. His churches pre-record services to post on their websites. He sees a challenge in getting to know people and build relationships without personal contact of some sort. So, Hutson has made it a point to meet each person in the congregation through a series of porch chats. “There’s no substitute for the personal relationship if you are going to pastor people.”
 
Pastor Mike Bekstrom led drive-in church for the first time when he worshipped with his new congregation at Montague UMC on July 5. A huge deck connected to a large parking lot enable the outdoor venue. Bekstrom spoke through a PA system as the service was recorded on Facebook Live.  The service ended with a loud horn honking version of the passing of the peace. The following Tuesday, Bekstrom was greeted in-person by some 20 members in the newly enlarged parish hall using masks and social distancing.
 
“My preference is to be able to visit and hold hands,” said Rev. E. Myrna Bernadel-Huey now appointed to Buena Vista UMC in Alameda. During a recent Zoom worship, the church made a virtual presentation of a handcrafted stole and held up signs saying, “Welcome Pastor Myrna.” Also, Buena Vista set up a series of neighborhood based small group meetings, called Tonarigumi, over Zoom for Bernadel-Huey to meet people. Each group has 6 or 10 participants—enough to fill up a computer screen. Although Bernadel-Huey can see who is there, she is unable to know who is not, who is missing. “Having to establish relationships with these restrictions is just … odd, just very odd. I won’t be seeing them in person any time soon. It is certainly not ideal,” added Bernadel-Huey.
 
“I want to see Grass Valley through their eyes,” said Cathy Love who was appointed to Grass Valley UMC this month. She is also new to pastoral ministry and came up with an innovative way to get to know the people in the church. In an introductory email, Love asked members to share favorite spots they had in the church building and around the area. Then, Love filmed herself visiting those places and shared the video clips with the congregation. “They see me in spaces that are sacred to them,” Love stated. “And I can see Grass Valley through their eyes.”
 
“It’s been sorta fun,” stated Rev. Dan Sturdivant who was recently appointed to Tice Valley UMC in Walnut Creek at Rossmoor, a gated community. Since the community is closed, no worship services have been conducted and the members prefer not to have digital platforms used at this time. Sturdivant relies on individual phone calls, conference calls and socially distanced drop bys. “My joke with it is that I have all these names but no faces!”
 
“I don’t like this shelter in place but right now I am enjoying that when I call, everyone is home!” stated Sturdivant. “And they are extra pleased when I do. I‘m giving a blessing by just showing up—I’m doing God’s work and it’s very gratifying.”