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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

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 Lynn Turner

I called Nancy Pettigrew, Prayer team chair of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, the week the church was closed to the public and said, “Nancy, this means we will not be able to do our Stations of the Cross in the Chapel during Holy Week as we have done the past three years. How do you feel about moving it outside?” She was thrilled!

Stations of the Cross 2020: A Sacred JourneyI met with Allen Cumbia, Ruth Szucs, Jack Pettigrew and Jeff Dortch to figure out how it might work. Jeff built the crosses, Jack made all the signs, and Allen Cumbia and Karen DeMarino went to work on creating a method to use QR codes (Quick Response Codes, the bar created with symbols to read information) that would access our narration for each station. I began working on the script for the narration and Allen brought in our staff one at a time to record it. Clint Smith and Alice Brette worked to create a page on our church website with the recordings for those without a QR code reader app on their phones or who chose to journey through the stations at home.

Karen DeMarino offered to make the drapes for the Celtic cross near our chapel that would represent the end of the journey. Richard Szucs and David Carter volunteered to weed and get the courtyard gardens in tiptop shape. It looked beautiful!

It was definitely a team effort!

Why was it important to find a way to make this a part of our Holy Week experience?

Throughout scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s people are called to remember. But we are not called to remember events for the sake of the event. We are called to remember because the events we learn about from scripture form a part of our own journey with Christ. During our celebration of Easter, the Stations of the Cross become markers for us of the journey Jesus made during the last hours of his life on earth. It begins with the Hall of Pilate and continues until that fateful death on Calvary. Some traditions mark 14 stations to the cross, while protestants have typically chosen the eight stations that are most represented in the Gospels. Walking the stations to the cross allows us to identify with Jesus as he identifies with us. We are drawn to contemplate, not only the suffering and pain of our own journey mirrored in His, but as we follow Christ, we are compelled to identify with those around us who suffer in their own journey.

The result? A blessing for all who walked our garden during the week and experienced the reality of the journey Christ made on his way to Calvary. There is no way to tell how many experienced this in our community, but the emails and Facebook comments tell us that it was meaningful for them. Many asked, “Can we do it like this again next year?” Well yes…yes, we can! And with the help of the same team of folks who made it possible, we are hopeful that is exactly what we will do next year when we are not in quarantine.

If you were not able to come in person this year, I hope you will make plans next year during Holy Week 2021 to experience this sacred journey with us.

Note: The Stations of the Cross we celebrate begin with the Hall of Pilate, a marker representing Pilate condemning Jesus to die on the cross. The next station represents Christ accepting the cross, followed by the station remembering Simon who helped Christ by carrying the cross for him. Station four represents Jesus speaking to the women who stood at the foot of the cross. The next station symbolizes Jesus being stripped of his garments, followed by the marker reminding us that he was nailed to the cross. Station seven characterizes Jesus caring for his mother by asking his disciple to treat Mary as his own mother. Finally, station eight marks Jesus’ death on the cross.

View the brief video about Stations of the Cross produced by Rodney Macklin and Allen Cumbia.

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