By Pastor Jarrett Britton Washington
It is without any doubt we are living in unprecedented times and we still are called to make an impact in the lives of the people God has given us charge. One of the guiding mantras of my life has been the Message Bible version of Jeremiah 29 and 11, where it states, “And when you get serious about finding me and want me more than anything else, I will make sure you are not disappointed.” I, like so many others would have never thought the physical doors of our sanctuary would be closed in this season.
Never did I imagine March 15, 2020 would have been my last time mounting the lectern of the House of Hope, Hopewell African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hemingway, South Carolina. It was never a thought that the last time I would have laid hands on the sick; anointed someone’s head with oil; invited someone to the altar for prayer; or even heard the melodious songs from the choir was set to be March 15, 2020. Yet, since the third Sunday in March, God has birthed a new fire in me and God has literally shown His faithfulness because of my seriousness to pastor my people.
Even in this season of grief and despair, there has been no change to the primary purpose of the ministry of the House of Hope. We are still the church called to teach the uncompromising Word of God and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ! The ministry’s vision is plainly to reach the lost and teach the found! We are called to reach out beyond the walls of the Church and be a demonstration of the principles of the kingdom of God in the earth. Furthermore, with the physical church campus closed we still consider ourselves to be a place where God is Healing, God is Omnipotent, God is our Praise and God is in our Evangelism.
In this season of self-sheltering and social distancing, I, as the pastor of the church, was given a vision from God to enact an ever-growing list of what I call “touch points.” I’ve defined “touch points” as the areas in which the local church impacts the members of the church and the community while practicing self-sheltering and social distancing. To date, I’ve developed six broad area “touch points” that are all being utilized at the House of Hope. I realize that each church is unique; therefore, as pastors I believe it is our duty to seek God on what will work in your local church context. I know there are many amazing things being done across the world, but ministry has to be specific to you. At the House of Hope these “touch points” are specifically designed to reach every demographic of our particular community, Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties, and the church.
Touch Point No. 1: Prayer and Devotion
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the House of Hope joins in Early Morning Prayer at 6:30AM. The call utilizes the app, FreeConferenceCall, to support this part of the ministry. On the designated prayer days, I lead the congregation and community in prayer begin promptly at 6:30AM and normally concluding by 6:50AM. In those twenty minutes we are able to raise a scriptural theme, give words of encouragement and pray for specific areas of our life.
Every Thursday from 11:00AM to 1:00PM we have continued our Touch of Faith Prayer Ministry. Under the leadership of one of our local elders, Reverend Benjamin Palmer, we receive direct calls into the church’s prayer line. Members and the community, are able to call in, and have someone pray directly for them. Due to the volume of the calls other members of our staff along with myself, are able to assist in retrieving calls and praying over the phone.
Touch Point No. 2: Worship
Worship was where context became extremely important. Internet services are not the greatest in the Hemingway area. (As a matter of fact, before this pandemic we were already engaged in meetings with the local internet providers and the local government to increase our bandwidth and stability). Therefore, due to our rural environment and lack of antenna strength “going live” would create issues. Further, many of our congregants access their internet utilizing smart devices and not pc’s, macs, and/or laptops. At the House of Hope, we discovered the best way to incorporate the entire family of God was to go the direct link pre-recorded route.
Every Sunday morning at 8:00AM members of our church community receive a Direct Worship Link to their mobile devices and emails using the DialMyCalls app. Once members of our church community open the message they are immediately directed to our local church’s YouTube Page. On the YouTube page members will find the pre-recorded worship service to include, but not limited to: the Children’s Sermon, the Greetings from the First Family, the guest soloist and/or artist, the sermon by the Pastor, the Invitation to New Life, and pertinent announcements for the week.
Touch Point No. 3: Study
We are blessed to have an enormously engaging, thought-provoking Bible Study Live every Saturday morning at 9:00AM utilizing the FreeConferenceCall app. This bible study gives us an opportunity to engage the various teaching styles of our ministerial staff and the Pastor. The Youth Ministry has been developing a Weekly Check In utilizing the Zoom app. This gives the young people an opportunity to see each other and to fellowship using the word of God.
We have continued our Monthly Newsletter where members can retrieve a printed copy through the church office or the digital copy sent out using the ConstantContact app. I have continued to write my Weekly Blog that is sent out to the church members using Constant Contact every Thursday morning at 6:00AM. The devotion and the newsletter are purposed to set our lives in order and allow the church to read and study God’s word in one accord.
Touch Point No. 4: Giving
We believe Giving is an essential part of our worship. Almost daily, I remind the members of our community that the harvest we reap is attached to the harvest we have sown. Tithing is the lifeblood of our ministry, and I am so thankful the people of God continue to support the church using one of our four means of giving. The House of Hope is structured to receive gifts for the ministry on the Givelfiy app, through our website, www.HopewellAMEC.org, through the Stewardship and Finance Commission on Sundays from 10:00AM to 12:00PM, or by direct mailing to the church’s P.O. Box.
Recently, I was asked the question as to whether we should still give to the local church during this pandemic. My answer was simply that each time I get paid – whether my check is big or small, growing or shrinking – when I give the “first fruits” of that income to God through my local church, I am making a tangible declaration to me and my family that God is my ultimate provider and the foundation of my trust. Pastors must constantly remind the members of their faith community that the church must continue to be the beacon of the community during this tough season.
Touch Point No. 5: Service to the Community
The House of Hope has always been a community oriented church. What the COVID-19 novel corona virus is allowing us to do is to step up our service, outreach, and concern.
Each day at 7:00PM, Monday through Friday, the members of the church community receive a 2- Minute Call informing them of the current status of the pandemic in South Carolina, areas of services to be rendered, and encouragement for the next day using the DialMyCalls app.
We have successfully launched the Frank and Eunice Vereen Porch Ministry. A ministry named after two leaders in our church community who inspired the entire church to begin leaving blessings on porches. This ministry has caught on like wild-fire and daily people post pictures on the church’s Facebook page sharing what they have been able to provide to someone in need.
We have distributed Blessing Boxes that contained the Holy Communion elements and anointing oil with prayers and directions for home use on designated Sundays.
Due to our earlier concerns with the internet bandwidth, the church has partnered with the Georgetown County School District to have a Free WiFi Bus parked on our church campus for two hours a day during the work week. Also, we are an information hub and bus stop for the school district Lunch Program that continues to serve a hot lunch to our young people who are now home schooled.
We maintain our relationship with the Low Country Food Bank and have plans to continue to serve our over 415 clients with free food and groceries during the pandemic.
We are blessed to have a member of our ministerial staff, Reverend Brenda Blackstock, to serve as our liaison to SC Thrive. Before the pandemic our church was offering free in-person Tax Preparation.
During this time of self-sheltering we are now able to offer the same service over the phone with our 4 state certified preparers in our church.
Our partnership continues to allow us to help people complete their SNAP, Medicaid, and Welvista applications over the phone. All and all, we are continuously developing new programs and outreach efforts to meet the needs of our underemployed, unemployed, furloughed, and fixed income community members.
Touch Point No. 6: Social Engagement
The House of Hope believes this season also requires the church to remove as many barriers as possible to keep our people socially engaged and thriving. Almost weekly since being out of the physical sanctuary, Hopewell’s social media pages on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have challenged the members to do “something.” We challenged members to style their favorite Hopewell tee during our Social Distancing Tee Shirt Challenge; members were challenged to post pictures of past Easter’s Past to shed some light on what has been; and now we are preparing for our Honor Thy Mother challenge. Each challenge adds a bit of levity to our current state of affairs.
One of the fan favorites is how my wife, Lady Deronda, posts a Bloopers Reel of the outtakes from Sunday morning services on Mondays. It’s a way to show the people its ok to laugh. Lady Washington is planning her first Women’s Ministry PJ Party using the Zoom app.
Our Class Leaders are currently involved in what is called a “Congregational Canvassing” where they are calling every member on their class asking them specific questions created by the Pastor and then reporting those answer directly to the Pastor. What the Congregational Canvassing does is it creates an added level of concern and it allows the members to be vulnerable with the people they look up to as their leaders. I’ve continued my “15 Famous People” where every day when we were in the office, I would check in with 15 different members randomly. Those random checks today are similar to the Congregational Canvassing but they allow the people to hear directly from their pastor.
Even though this may all seem like a lot, I am convinced it still isn’t enough. I realize that I am a pastor, but I am also someone’s support system, someone’s advisor, someone’s sounding board, and someone’s access to the outside world. As I tell my members all the time, we are in this together, and we will come out better. There’s no secret, the pastor of today has to position himself/herself to work harder to reach their community of faith. These “Touch Points” are what is working in Hemingway at The House of Hope. We stay open to suggestion and we are always seeking the ‘next’ thing to impact our community’s life. Much has come through trial and error, but through it all I am convinced God will get all the glory out of what we do.