Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

By Emma Tilley

This year COVID-19 has altered the very way we do life and ministry. During this year, we have stood face to face with the fragility of life. As the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, “all is hevel (or breath).” Our jobs, our food systems, our health: they are all fragile. The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed so starkly the ways life can be even more fragile for those who are homeless, in minority communities and work in service jobs.

In March, when Richmond’s First Baptist Church went virtual, Steve Blanchard began rethinking how the Ministry of Compassion could continue to serve our neighbors safely in this critical time. Feeding people has become his top priority. Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in America, estimates in 2020 about 54 million people in our country will experience food insecurity with 18 million of those being children.1

The food pantry was moved quickly to the corner of Flamming Hall and converted to a walk-up model. A place where our church once gathered together to eat every week now looks like a small grocery store currently serving around 280 people each week. Every Monday and Thursday anyone can walk up to the back door of the gym, be given a list on which to indicate the items they need, and be handed a bag full of their choice of canned goods, toiletries, clothes, shoes, a bag lunch or cleaning supplies. This summer the food pantry also began offering vegetables grown in our community access plot at Charlotte Acres. This partnership allows our pantry to make available fresh, healthy food to those we serve.

Throughout the year the number of clients has steadily increased as the pandemic wages on and word spreads about our ministry. Social workers, agencies or clients can also call ahead and order boxes of food throughout the week for pick up. Starting in August the mobile market resumed going out every first and third Saturdays to St. Luke’s Apartments and Glen Lea Elementary School. The FBC compassion van is stocked with food, fresh vegetables and cleaning supplies. We typically see a surge in clients at the end of the month when federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits run out and money is tight. These food supplies help families and individuals have consistent access to food.

Finding a way to operate the shower ministry during the pandemic was another concern. This took some brainstorming to find a safe way to allow our homeless neighbors to have access to a shower. In July, the Baptist General Association of Virginia provided FBC a shower trailer, with individual shower units, to continue to offer showers to our homeless neighbors. The shower trailer is located in the Mulberry Street parking lot and currently operates Mondays and Thursdays.

The Ministry of Compassion would not be possible without our weekly pantry and mobile market volunteers, Charlotte Acres produce delivery drivers, shoppers, shower attendants and cleaning staff, FBC support staff and many others. Above all, we are incredibly thankful for your generous gifts throughout this year. We have not been together in person these past months, but we have felt the love of your gifts and prayer. Every Monday and Thursday, the volunteers in the food pantry are blessed to be the ears of the church. We hear “thank you,” “God bless you all” amid frustration and struggles, and sometimes someone comes in singing a song to the Lord. I hope when you pray and give to this ministry, you hear those voices of gratitude and hope in your heart.

Check out the website for more updates on the compassion ministry.       

1 https://www.feedingamerica.org/about-us/press-room/feeding-america-study-projects-local-food-insecurity-rates-amid-pandemic-could

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By Jim Somerville

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, ninety-two people gathered for worship in the Sanctuary of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Four days earlier, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “global pandemic.” The next day, March 12, the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency. But there we were on March 15, trying to sing the hymns and say the prayers and listen to the sermon as if everything was normal.

It was not.

calloutOur COVID-19 response team decided to suspend all gatherings at First Baptist Church for at least the next two weeks, which meant that we had to figure out how to produce a worship service for the following Sunday that could be streamed on our website and broadcast on Channel 8 without a congregation or choir. And then there were all those other things to think about. What about Sunday school? What about Wednesday night supper? What about staff meeting on Tuesday morning?

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case it was. We scrambled to get a TV crew together to record the worship service on Sunday, March 22. Steve Booth began to reach out to Sunday school teachers who were willing to try meeting with their classes on conference calls, or on the “Zoom” platform. Phil Mitchell called off choir rehearsal and began to look for every talented soloist and instrumentalist he could find. Steve Blanchard searched for ways to continue the church’s Compassion ministry when we couldn’t let people in for showers. Ann Carter and Candi Brown were faced with the daunting prospect of ministering to youth and children “virtually.” Ralph Starling’s ministry of outreach ground to a halt while Lynn Turner’s ministry of prayer reached a whole new level. Personally, I was waking up at 3:30 every morning trying to figure out how to re-invent the church.

But two weeks into it we began to see the upside. Attendance was up! Since many of their own churches were closed more people than ever were tuning in to our webcast and broadcast. Our deacons reached out in those early days, trying to call every single member of the church just to make sure they were okay. Sunday school teachers rose to the challenge, and began providing opportunities for Bible study and discussion that were surprisingly successful. I started a private Facebook group, just for the members and friends of First Baptist, that grew from 500 on the first day to more than 1,000. I also started offering a Wednesday night Bible study to fill that gap in our schedule even as our own Beanie Brooks began posting Wednesday night supper recipes.

And then the true miracle: giving was up! Our members and friends seemed to understand our anxiety about meeting the budget when we couldn’t pass the plate. They began to give online, and give generously. I was bracing myself for the first financial report, and when it turned out we were ahead of our usual giving I could hardly believe it. What a church!

We don’t want to do this forever. Some of us are more than ready to be back in our beautiful building for worship, Bible study, and fellowship. Those warm hugs and friendly pats on the back are often what keep us going. Still, we can be grateful that in this unusual time we have stayed connected as a church family. We have gone deeper in our love for God and wider in our love for neighbor. I continue to pray that we will come out of this crisis “better and stronger than ever.”

It seems impossible.

But as I remind myself each time I pray that prayer: nothing is too hard for God.

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