Staying in Touch When You Can’t Stay or Touch

Staying in Touch When You Can’t Stay or Touch

Many churches are following online worship services with virtual coffee hours, where members can interact with one another via a video conferencing application like Zoom. But not everyone can easily tackle technology.  And most would agree that the online group settings may not fill the void of solitude or loneliness that may be setting in with members who thrive on in-person conversations, one-on-one chats, and face-to-face fellowship – and that’s for members who have been able to make it to church before the COVID-19 pandemic.  There are some church members who may have been homebound before the crisis and are now unable to use technology to stay in touch or to receive visitors.

To keep a pulse on how congregants are doing, many churches are setting up phone trees. Others are having the pastors and deacons call every member to see if they need anything.

Here are some ways pastors and church leaders are nurturing their members:
  • Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash, Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC, Lexington,MA, said her church realized early on that they needed an organized way to maintain community.  They moved to Zoom for worship, Bible Study, and children's and youth programming so they were able to keep up with which community members (and visitors) are connecting online. They also implemented a volunteer care tree to make sure they were in contact with most households by personal note, email or phone call. 

    “Our youth and children have also been instrumental – sending artwork and notes to our elders and those who live alone,” said Kavich Girash.  “We've got some pen pal relationships forming out of that. Elders have felt very supported and cared for as they've received cards from the kids. In fact, my child got three notes in reply to his cards that were longer that the ones he'd sent.”

    She also noted that the church adds check-in surveys to the daily emails, just to get an additional pulse on how folks are doing. The survey asks basic questions, like “how are you practically, spiritually, and connectionally?” The survey also asks people whether they are focusing on current needs, or starting to consider the long-term ramifications of this crisis. 
  • Rev. Sara Krhla of Church of Christ Congregational in Goshen CT, explained that in addition to holding daily Facebook Live reflections and ‘drop-in’ virtual Zoom meetings, the deacons are making phone calls every other week to check in on the congregation. One week they included those people they haven't seen in church for a while but have been considered part of their church family and community. The list of people each deacon calls changes each time so that the person being called gets to talk with different people.
  • Pastor Baxter Chism of Tewksbury Congregational Church in MA, said that he, the Board of Deacons, and members of the Board of Ministries have been calling congregants on the phone to check in on them. He has also been keeping up with a lot of members via Facebook messenger and text messages. As a result, some church members (following protocols) have delivered food to the elderly and people who have self-quarantined due to possible exposure. If this ‘shutdown’ continues longer, Chism will also do pastoral care through video conferencing.

    Mercy Delgado, the church’s administrative assistant, is also reaching out to the congregation's members and attendees to check in and identify needs and make sure they're doing OK. “Most folks really want to talk and to share,” she said.  “We're trying to meet essential needs such as groceries and supplies for staying safe, especially with our most vulnerable members. I've been fortunate enough to be able to connect folks’ needs with those able and willing to help out.”
  • Storrs Congregational Church, UCC in Storrs Mansfield, CT, already had a system of "Caring Connections" in place.  The Rev. Matthew Emery, pastor of the church, explained that Caring Connections is not entirely unlike the old tradition of having a subset of congregants assigned to each deacon/elder as their "flock,” except now they have a much larger group of caring "connectors" (somewhere between 30 and 40) and the assigning of connector to connectee is a bit more organic / chosen (rather than assigned).

    Early into the crisis, Emery systematically reached out to all of the Caring Connectors to check in on them and to ask them to make a check-in phone call to each of their connectees and report back anything of note. He followed up later with the connectors, providing some additional guidance on how to engage folk in check-in conversations beyond a cursory "how are you?"
  • Surveying members for needs during the Covid-19 pandemic
    Reverend Alex Shea Will, Associate Pastor of South Church in Andover, MA, reported that they sent out a postcard to every household, inviting them to take a survey online or call the church. Since then they have been deploying deacons and others who signed up to help. Additionally, deacons have a list of certain members whom they’ve been paired with to call and check on.
  • Pastor Kazimierz Bem of First Church in Marlborough MA is on his second round of phone calls to members.  The church also has Bible Study and Sunday School via Zoom, as well as sessions called ‘Coffee and High Tea with Pastor Kaz’ twice a week to replace the coffee house drop-in sessions.
  • Debi Mastroni-Kenyon, Director of Faith Formation at Monroe Congregational Church (CT) also reports that in addition to the church holding a Zoom coffee hour on Sunday mornings, the deacons have 'flocks' and have been keeping in touch with their lists. Their Pastor, Rev. Jennifer Gingras, has also been keeping in touch with members as well as dropping off care packages.

    Mastroni-Kenyon is trying to keep her children and youth connected by having Zoom Sunday school and Jr. Youth Group every Sunday and Confirmation class on Wednesday evenings. During the week, she makes phone calls to parents, and sends a check-in email with an activity and a video of her just saying “Hello, how are you?” On Friday she sends a reminder email with links to the Sunday Zoom gatherings. She also holds a Tuesday night Zoom hang out for adults -- no plan, no agenda, just a social time. She reports that the attendance has been light, but worthwhile.
  • Rev. Shawn Fisher of Bloomfield Congregational Church, UCC (CT) said the Parish Care Team was assigned a broader group of people to connect with – particularly those who are not tech-savvy – via phone calls and handwritten cards. The Deacons are reaching out to a more extended group while they develop "Block Captains" – 12 people who will each have about 7 to 10 households assigned to them. The church signed up for an automated phone call system where Fisher can say a prayer or leave an important message that will be sent to everyone in the congregation. Like many churches already mentioned, there are Zoom coffee hours after online church service as well as for Bible Study and Youth Group. They are in the process of planning a twice-weekly evening prayer time.
“One of the fundamental aspects of church is the beloved community,” said The Rev. Don Remick, Bridge Conference Minister.  “It is the loving kindness that binds us together with each other and God.  It is so good to see the creativity and variety of ways that our clergy and church leadership are thoughtfully and intentionally reaching out and connecting their communities.”

For more ideas, visit the Beyond Worship: Building Community Online resources on the Conference website.



Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane

Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane writes news articles for the SNEUCC website. She is also the editor of the Starting With Scripture newsletter. Contact her if: Your church has a great story to tell about an innovative ministry. You have a prayer request to ...

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