As the COVID-19 virus morphed and cases surged, fear, panic, hopelessness and pain gripped the world, even the Christian community, and have become companions of many homes. With social and spiritual interactions thwarted, not by choice but by circumstances beyond their control, many, including the Church, have been forced to adjust. Consequently, church ministry during this international health crisis has changed for congregations such as the Christiansted Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Temple on St. Croix, where senior citizens account for 90% of the membership.
Crisis management began with establishing a COVID-19 Task Force which was among the requirements sent to each congregation by the North Caribbean Conference (NCC) President, Pastor Desmond James, who emphasized, “Each church should establish a task force to study the needs of the church and determine how best to meet the needs of the members.”
“It takes intentional planning,” commented Pastor Earl Daniel who leads the congregation which took up the planning mandate in advance of the President’s notice. “[It is a] very fluid situation but God has blessed the church with leaders who are in tune with the times and sensitive to the needs of the people they serve. Our leaders are empowered to create ministry models that will reach every member of the church.”
The congregation’s First Elder, Horace Graham, elaborated, “Many of the persons we serve are members who embraced Adventism in its infancy stage on the island of St. Croix. We are cognizant of our demographic and are determined to support them with ministry initiatives that will keep them safe while remaining fully connected to the life of the church. For many of them, the weekly gatherings of the church are their primary social interaction. We sought to develop a system to ensure they [remain] connected to the community of faith that they were so accustomed to interacting with.”
Interestingly, almost sixty senior church members attended the mid-week/ Wednesday night service, held immediately before all regularly-scheduled, in-person, church services were indefinitely postponed. One member, Dr. Roosevelt Daniel, commented on the service, “The challenge from the First Elder was inspiring and meaningful. Elder Graham spoke to us and we are leaving determined that heaven will be a great reunion.” That night, many members, though unnerved by the worldwide social isolation strategy and the uncertainty of meeting together in the near future, expressed their hope in the return of Jesus.
In addition, on-going care and meeting members’ needs were given laser focus on that Wednesday night. “Ministry is about people, God’s people. God gave His life for them and, as pastor, I have to do what is right to see to it that the flock is cared for.” The congregation’s COVID-19 Task Force gave each member a care package which contained hand sanitizer, a thermometer, a hand-washing guide, a medication tracker and an emergency contact list. The Task Force also paired seniors with youth and other energetic members who have been trained to safely engage the most vulnerable members, rendering support for them with errands and other tasks.
Elder Graham added, “The church has the greatest potential to lose. We are the highest at risk and we need to be sure that we are able to deliver membership care to them. It has worked because four weeks since leaving church, we can account for 100% of our members with an active membership of 120 members. We have trained Sabbath School teachers how to use a conference call system so that they can convene Sabbath School classes. We are testing it this week as over the last weeks we took the service from the coordinated services provided by the Ministerial Association. We are training members how to set up email accounts so that they can receive private communication from the church.” Three quarters of the members are reached through a WhatsApp group. The pastor’s messages are recorded and sent to members’ devices. Tech-savvy members ensure that seniors’ devices access YouTube and Facebook for Sabbath services.
The ministry is all-embracing and Pastor Daniel commended the youth. As pastor and someone in the identified as most vulnerable demographic, he also receives care-calls from his assigned member, expressing availability to meet the family’s needs. Church members are delivering groceries and other necessities to older adults and those who aren’t able to leave their homes. To alleviate loneliness, the church connected young families and individuals who are home-bound to create a sense of community across generational lines through regular phone calls and safe interactions.
Pastor Daniel continues to visit and reach out to members, “My itinerary has not changed. I put myself in the shoes of my congregants who have lost jobs already or are afraid of losing their jobs. I also encourage people to find space inside their homes to worship God intimately and individually, even as gathering together has become impossible. Prayer is what I engage in with my congregants on a daily basis. I tell them to pray fervently and encourage them to pray to God.”