Through the most challenging of times, God’s people depend on the church for support, clarity, and comfort. During these unprecedented times of COVID-19, congregations have been inspired to find new ways to be the church even when they cannot physically be together.
Lutheran Congregational Services is supporting ministries across Eastern Pennsylvania as they meet the needs of vulnerable people throughout their communities. Our shared faith in God gives us the strength to act when our neighbors are in need. What follows is an account of how one church is finding its way in the wilderness of chaos and uncertainty.
For Pastor Cartwright of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Olney, Philadelphia, COVID-19 has created challenges in the many ways they serve their community. Doing all that they can to adapt to these challenges, Pastor Cartwright says that, now more than ever, it is so important to embrace the possibilities of change and be flexible.
A congregation is crucial amidst times like these. We don’t stop being crucial. We just have to work differently and be open to possibility.Pastor Katherine Cartwright, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Olney
“All of the changes we have to make to meet this pandemic are going to help us grow in ways that we can’t imagine right now,” Pastor Cartwright affirms.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Continues to Support Their “Senior Wednesday” Program
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in collaboration with the health ministry staff of St. Helena Catholic Church, regularly hosts Senior Wednesdays each week for the older adults of their community. Providing opportunities to benefit their spiritual, physical, and mental wellbeing, this program brings seniors together and provides ministry, meals, activities, exercise and more.
“It is a safe place for seniors to come and spend time with friends. Many of our seniors live alone and don’t have family nearby, and one-third of our participants speak Spanish as their primary language,” says Ann Farley, member of the congregation for 18 years and manager of St. Paul’s Senior Wednesday program. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has been creative in the way the church supports its seniors to ensure their spiritual and emotional health.
“Connectedness is so critical right now. It’s so important to keep in touch with our seniors. One woman is 89 and we’re teaching her how to use the computer to access our ministry online, and she’s been very open to it. That’s what we’re doing to keep these folks connected. We have a real sense of community here,” says Ann.
Volunteers of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church continue to make phone calls to each of their Senior Wednesday group members and communicate with them virtually online. They are dedicated to supporting these older adults in any way they can. “What I’m finding is that many of our seniors are not already on the internet. Whoever needs any kind of help to get online, we’ve been helping them. We are really mobilizing everyone, and in that way, it’s very exciting.”
Reminding the Community That Their Church is Still There for Them
Pastor Cartwright explains that their congregation is filming ministry and using video to have remote worship for the people of their community. While the Church continues to make great strides in bringing the Word of God to people at home, Pastor Cartwright wants the community to know that their congregation is there for them.
“I feel it is important for the community to know that we are still here even if the building is shut down. We’re looking at ways to use the familiar symbols of Church to let people know we’re here. We will still plant our lilies outside for Easter so that when people wake up on Easter morning, they know their church is still there, and we are continuing to ring our church bells periodically.”
Reminding congregation members that God’s love is ever-present, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has also been creative in keeping their operational food pantry open for individuals with food insecurities. “We have several volunteers who are very committed to this program. We have created protocols to keep our volunteers and clients as safe as possible,” explains Pastor Cartwright.
“It’s really important that we continue to put food on the food pantry shelves. We’re cognizant that there is so much that we don’t know in terms of this virus, but food is always needed, and we need to stay connected,” she emphasizes.
The challenge and opportunity with congregations right now is to stay open to possibility and embrace possibility. We need to remember that this is just another expression of our life together.Pastor Katherine Cartwright, St Paul’s Lutheran Church Olney
Now, more than ever, congregations throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, like St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, need your support. Your gift to Lutheran Congregational Services will help provide funding for much-needed volunteers, food, safety gear, cleaning supplies, and other supplemental support to existing feeding and sheltering ministries and services.