Local churches use Internet, radio to reach out during virus confinement
By Samantha Lyles
As our national and state governments scramble to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, group meetings of more than 10 people have been strongly discouraged, meaning that for the foreseeable future, regular church worship services have been suspended. While we all wait it out and hope for the best, local churches are employing technology to keep our spirits up and keep us connected.
“We’re following suit with most folks and will be live streaming on Facebook,” says Pastor Tim Coker of Darlington’s Central Baptist Church. Their March 22 stream included only Coker’s sermon, but he said Central Baptist plans to include a few musicians on the March 29 live stream, bringing music into people’s homes.
“We can maintain the crowd size restrictions and close off the sanctuary, but still do the regular service so people can watch it online,” says Coker. “I think most of my fellow ministers are looking into doing that same thing.”
Pastor Brian Sherwood says First Baptist Church of Darlington will livestream a Sunday message on their Facebook page until health authorities deem it safe to gather in person again. All other campus events and services have been cancelled, except the weekly Wednesday evening prayer meeting at 6:00 p.m.
“With consideration of our senior population, we want to avoid spreading this virus,” says Sherwood. “I don’t like cancelling anything, but this is the decision we must make at this time.”
While churches are unable to host Sunday School or any large group activities, members are trying to keep in touch with each other, and some are even holding small meetings to pray and fellowship in person. Both Coker and Sherwood say their church members are taking the initiative to call elderly members regularly – not just to check on their health, but to keep the loneliness at bay.
“We have care groups that have committed to call our senior adults a few times a week during this thing. For our younger crowd, we are encouraging them to keep in touch with each other and check in regularly,” says Coker. “Use Zoom, use Facetime, use Instagram to communicate, because I think it’s important to actually see somebody talking to you.”
Keeping one’s peace of mind is key during times of high stress, and one way to lower your stress is to avoid panicky social media scares, or paranoid folks pushing false information.
“We had a men’s gathering on Monday night (March 16) where we observed the limit of ten people. We had supper, brief devotions, and some prayer, and people shared that they were already hearing so many horror stories. Just crazy sorts of things,” Coker says.
Sherwood advises using caution when seeking out news about the pandemic, and suggests sticking to known sources like the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov. Additionally, Coker says the South Carolina Baptist Convention has a list of media resources that provide updated and vetted information. Visit www.scbaptist.org or check their Facebook page to learn more.
While traditional church services are suspended, one local group is trying a nifty workaround called “car church.” At the first service on March 22, Pastor Frankie Tanner of Mechanicsville Baptist Church offered a message and words of encouragement from the loading dock of the old Darlington Post Office on Pearl Street. Cars parked in the lot behind the building and watched Tanner while his words were broadcast locally to their vehicle radios.
Todd Hardee, owner of the old Post Office, says the car church service will continue weekly until gathering restrictions are lifted. Rev. Cecil Bromell of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church will bring the next message on March 29 at 10 a.m. All are welcome to listen; just park as close as you can and tune your radio to 88.7 FM.
As we search for ways to maintain a sense of normalcy during such a strange time, staying connected to other people – even via the Internet – is vitally important. Coker and Sherwood both note that thinking of others and acting in the best interest of the community could be the most important lesson we all learn from our Coronavirus confinement.
“The Bible calls for us to walk in faith and wisdom, to make wise decisions…that might mean we have to cancel our plans, to not meet on Sundays, to stay at home for two or more weeks, if it comes to that,” says Sherwood.
“We’ve gotten through a lot of crises together. God’s gotten us through, and we’ve done it by hanging on to each other. This is different, but it will be no exception,” Coker says.