Center Church of South Hadley
Center Church of South Hadley
Photo Snapshot of 2020 with Center Church of South Hadley
Interview with Rev. Lori Souder of Center Church of South Hadley
How did the two pandemics (COVID-19 and Racism) impact your mission and ministry activities?
Clearly it was a wake-up call but it was a challenging time. We closed on March 14th of 2020 but tried to use humor to navigate the trauma and challenges we faced. Lay people learned YouTube, including how to record, and another gifted person put the service together. It was difficult to not be able to visit with people, but we created phone trees to check on one another.
Black Lives Matter impacted our church as well. We prayed for both victims and the police force, holding monthly vigils to raise awareness for social issues. There were 230 people at first and unfortunately some people in the community hated it. We received threats, as we were public about our position on Racial Justice in the community. But we also fostered strong partnerships with the police. Within our congregation we started to have important conversations about race, using books as a platform for discussions. We asked how we can be anti-racist and reflected on what white privilege looks like.
How did your church continue to be engaged in innovative, creative and unfamiliar ways during the COVID-19 shutdown?
We believe that mission is Outreach and had to find new ways to address both new and old challenges. The Police Chief came to talk about racism and we talked about the importance of working together. We interviewed community stakeholders to learn about their perceptions of who we are and to start conversations about how we can work together.
We started to rent out space for outside programs that had values aligning with ours. The Tree of Life Preschool came and requested space, as well as a music teacher. As of now, 3 non-profits occupy space in our building. Additionally, we have worked in partnership with four non-profits, including Food for Friends and Habitat.
Our Global Mission person adjusted a scheduled meeting and the team asked, “Could you join us on Zoom for a Coffee Hour?” It worked! The coffee hour was one way that we were able to connect.
What we have found is that when you look outside of yourself and see what the needs are, the impossible becomes possible. We have accomplished an insurmountable amount thanks to can-do people, and have learned not to sweat the small stuff.
What were the low points, failures, or frustrations?
One of the biggest low points was hearing repeated stories of police abuse, and the plague of racism became a leading light for the Vigils on Saturday morning. Also, we often had the feeling of being alienated and lonely while pulling together worship. It felt like it was a lonely island and we wouldn’t see each other all day. We had to work harder to find the Spirit.
What were the high points and successes?
High Point: Vigils, as there wasn’t any planning but the work of the Holy Spirit. Our folks aren’t done with addressing racism and our church has become more mission oriented. The level of authenticity also changed; it wiped out a sense of grandiosity and helped support growth in humility.
What lessons, learnings, or changes will your congregation carry into the future?:
- If we stand still, we’re not moving forward.
- We don’t want to return to normal.
- We become better with digital worship services.
- If churches want to thrive, hybrid is the new normal.
- Flexibility is required
Video Interview with Lori Souder: