Athol Congregational Church
Athol Congregational Church
Photo Snapshot of 2020 at Athol Congregational Church
During COVID, many churches said their community meal or other feeding programs had to pivot - and that they they fed people not only in body, but in mind and soul as well.
For example, the Athol Congregational Church in Athol, MA, offered drive-in meals and found an appreciative community.
"People who didn't need the meal, who just wanted to see people, came through the drive through and gave money," they reported.
To meet the need of those craving connection, the Avon Congregational Church in Avon, CT held "Picnic with the Pastor" once it was safe to gather outside.
"This weekly gathering enabled people who otherwise had no interaction with anyone to be among faces, albeit at a distance, whom they loved and trusted," they wrote.
Initial Written Interview with Rev. Candi Ashenden, of Athol Congregational Church:
During 2020, our nation faced two pandemics—the health pandemic of COVID 19 and the pandemic of continuous Racial Injustice. As you think about these two pandemics:
How did they impact your mission and ministry activities?
They forced us to figure out what we’re all about and gave us a reason to do things in a more public way. For example:
- We served a community meal once a month that had real china and entertainment. Approximately 85 people would come! Once the pandemic hit, we started offering Drive-Through Meals. Almost 300 people came!
- We have been Open and Affirming for a few years and started using town land as a billboard, including our "God Loves Them All" display, which was painted by church people. We added more edgy Signage to communicate Open and Affirming commitments.
- We hosted Meetings and Book Reading Group on Zoom
- We offered prerecording Worship on the Local Access Channel.
- We offered on-location services, for example, filming sermons for Sacred Services throughout the country (on a trip to and from CO)
How did your church continue to be engaged in innovative, creative and unfamiliar ways during the COVID-19 shutdown?
- Recording Sermons
- Recording Day 15 Minute slots: During this recording session, one person sang Call to Worship (couples), Lord’s Prayer (kids), Scripture 119. Different people participated.
- Community Meals
- Phoning around to different places for donations
- During Easter Season we created 250 Lenten Bags, which included object lessons for each week of Lent – rocks, coins Easter Bags. Deacons hand-delivered these bags.
- Calling Tree of about 15-20 callers
What were the low points, failures, and frustrations?
- Biggest Curse is Biggest Blessing - Diverse Political Views
- Trying to reach a compromise, that didn’t make anyone happy. Callers did a good job keeping track of where the unrest might be.
- Healing Ministry – Reiki Team - People stopped, felt left out, so we began a monthly healing service.
- Elders without internet: Brought old tech to those without and put worship on DVD’s and mailed them/brought them to people without internet.
- Local Access Station Keeping People ENGAGED
What were the high points and successes?
- Little Things: A woman came to the Community Meal. Her refrigerator had broken, announced it the next day and someone was getting rid of their fridge and brought it to the woman’s home; she is now a regular worshiper. In Person Worship: A person came to play trumpet after experiencing one of the members changing their flat tire.
- Much Larger Community Reach: “You’re the Church That Does Something” Gave awards to the “Emmy’s.” (Celebrating people who had stepped up in extraordinary ways) Made comments on the Community Page when she shared “Most Improved Zoomer”
What lessons, learnings, or changes will your congregation carry into the future?
- The way we do Community Meals
- Discovered the need to Be Church. Doing the drive through for meals – people, who didn’t need the meal, who just wanted to see people, came through the drive through and gave money. Community Meals are paid for by local businesses.
- Asking unabashedly because our mission became so clear. Importance of being connected, but realizing we don't especially need to be together.
- Need to maintain a quality video presence. Live streaming to Facebook/Recording You Tube (Starting a campaign to get 1,000 subscribers)
- Much more aware that Pastor/CE person are outside of the church. Secretary has become a “hub.”
- God isn’t limited to the building. Church is not the only place where we experience the divine.
- The value of looking one another in the eye. Masks can help! During the peace, instead of shaking hands , we looked people in the eye, holding their gaze for a bit so that we could really see someone Intentionality about new habits.
- Some people have gifts that we didn’t know. New volunteers stepped up to put labels on the newsletter and bring them to people’s homes).
- Once a month, Spark (an outreach group in the church) stood with signs like BLM, Kindness, God Loves Us All. Focused on people with disabilities - helping people connect with new friends.
- Group in town – partnering with drive through, $$. Making a concrete difference where we are.
Video Interview with Rev. Candi Ashenden of Athol Congregational Church: