Lent 2020 began with people gathering for the imposition of ashes, but after just a few weeks of worship following soup and sandwich suppers, the coronavirus interrupted everything.
Bans on gatherings of more than ten people and then stay-at-home mandates shifted our focus from current plans and normal traditions to discovering new ways to be the church for the sake of the world. Some congregations were able to quickly figure out how to do worship “live” on Facebook, worship via Zoom, or video a service and share it, but other congregations turned to the synod for help and support. Thanks to Mission Support and a new “media studio” in the synod office, the synod staff were able to quickly mobilize to offer at least two options for worship each Sunday as well as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Each week during the pandemic, the synod staff has offered a recorded video service on the NC Synod YouTube channel and a live Zoom worship (publicized on the Facebook page) led by synod staff and others from across the synod. This will continue for the foreseeable future.
Susan Harris, who normally worships at Salem, Lincolnton, had this to say about worship in the time of COVID-19, “Coming from a very small, rural congregation, the opportunity to worship online has been a blessing and has filled a void for me. Our pulpit had most-recently been filled with supply pastors—sometimes a different pastor every Sunday. Since we are a small congregation without an interim pastor, I have turned to the online worship offered and led by the bishop and the synod staff. It has given me a reassurance that the North Carolina Synod recognizes the needs of smaller congregations.”
Cherie Little, wife of Pastor Dick Little (retired), shared “I can’t even imagine the pressures that are on the synod staff because of this time of quarantine. In spite of this, (they) have focused on the nourishment of each of us. This has been the most wonderful Lenten and Easter journey for me and the worship I experienced through the website has been a big part of it. I found that I have been able to get down to the essence of what Lent and Easter are about without worrying about all the business of getting ready to go out to services, of choosing clothes and preparing meals on Easter. Dick and I have been able to focus on our wonderful Father/Mother, Son, and Spirit and truly feel God’s presence with us.”
At St. Thomas, Charlotte, the congregation had relied on supply pastors for several months prior to calling Richard Hogg to serve as their pastor; he began his ministry with them on April 1. (What a time to begin!) Pastor Hogg’s first two services, Palm Sunday and Easter, were both online. He shared, “Both services went well, and part of our success came from participating with prior online services with the NC Synod. I see a blessing in having the synod be our pioneer and offering options to support our desire to worship our Lord. For those who were able, it also meant being able to participate in the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Worship experiences. Online services during this time allow us to invite friends and family outside our area to participate in our worship services. It is a blessing to be able to extend our fellowship outside our walls. Having options from the synod allows an alternate plan in case members are unable to link to our service.”
“I know there are a number of congregations and pastors around the NC Synod offering videos and online services and I have watched and listened to some of those as well,” added Susan Harris. “But it is comforting to know that smaller congregations are not being forgotten in this unprecedented time. Following the first online worship, a friend of mine from another congregation sent me a message to tell me that ‘we worshiped together’ that week. It was nice to worship with people from all across the synod and beyond!”
Indeed, like the children’s song learned in Sunday school or children’s choirs, “…we are the church together…the church is not a building…the church is the people!”