Newman Congregational Church

Newman Congregational Church

Photo Snapshot of 2020 at Newman Congregational Church

Interview with Timoth Sylvia

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?  

  • COVID shifted all programming online.  The leadership decided not to gather in person for a year, given the uncertainties we all felt. Instead, we invested time and energy in innovating and doing things. 
  • For the first few Sundays we did Facebook Live to offer services, but eventually we moved to prerecording worship services, involving congregational members and musicians.  We continued to use zoom for programs and ministries, including our knitting group. 
  • Over time, we started to experiment with musicians - Live on Facebook and YouTube. 
  • We asked ourselves "how do we maintain ministry when not gathered in person?"
  • Zoom Coffee Hour - We reflected on how it was unlike any previous experience. We were spending an hour or more intentionally with one another - supporting and loving online another. We were deepening connections without being in the same place. 
  • It was impactful to have people sitting with one another that they normally wouldn’t see, and watching them build new relationships.  

How did your church continue to be engaged in innovative, creative and unfamiliar ways during the COVID-19 shutdown?  

  • In addition to taking all ministries online, we did a few workshops to see what it would look like to be an online church. Trying out different online offerings gave us insight to what ministries will continue online. 
  • For our Racial Justice book discussion, we had people from Hilton Head and Canada. Having such a range of backgrounds coming together at the table was special.  
  • During our 90 day Bible reading study, we had people from 21 different states, Canada, and the UK. 
  • We were able to expand members of the faith community. 
  • We found new ways of getting people involved, such as accessing Tik Tok. With support from our church community, we were able to promote live stream worship services on Tik Tok, as well as through Facebook, and YouTube. We also did Press releases locally to reach the greatest number of people. 

 What were the low points, failures or frustrations? 

  • At some points we were lamenting and felt discouraged. 
  • Some church members did not have access to remote communication.  We tried to stay connected with everyone but it was challenging. 
  • Emotionally, there was a low point of grief that we carried for over 18 months. 
  • We lost some people who died during the pandemic. What made it most difficult was that the community could not grieve or come together.   
  • There were many lost opportunities to be in each other’s lives. 

 What were the high points and successes?  

  • Just prior to the pandemic we started having book discussions. We took our discussions online, getting more people involved.  These discussions started a Racial Equity team, with one member in Hilton Head.  
  • We started a community scholarship
  • We found that online services brought with it a wider spectrum of folks. 

What lessons, learnings or changes will your congregation carry into the future? 

  • Everything has been a lesson for us. 
  • We are not the church we were.
  • The language of online church is a part of who we are now. 
  • We continue looking for ways to provide access to folks. 
  • We recognize that we seek radical hospitality. We also can’t shut down online experience now that we've begun it. 
  • We will continue to use zoom. It is an easy way for our church to come together for things and is a way for us to worship with other congregations. 
  • We scheduled times that people normally wouldn’t have participated during.  
  • We are at a stage now where folks are recognizing that we are not a faith community that is drawn together in a physical space.  We have begun to see ourselves as an online church. This brings us to some new questions, like how we navigate membership in the future.  
  • The work we have done will continue 
  • We have developed partnerships with others and have served as a resource for other congregations. We recognize that we can work together. 
  • There is an element of excitement and possibilities have enabled us to continue to carry on. It's sad that it took a pandemic for this to happen to churches.  But we're glad that churches are taking the next step. 
  • There is a great emergence that we are in the midst of right now. 

Video Interview with Timoth Sylvia

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