Those of us in ministry are scrambling to figure out how to “do church” at a time when people can’t gather. Our human inclination is to keep doing what we know how to do, so we move our services and Bible studies online. Streaming services is important, but our churches can do more. Here are some ideas for how to be the church in other ways.

1. Ring Church Bells More Frequently.

If you’re blessed with a building that has a bell tower, consider ringing them more frequently. Electronic carillons that play hymns are particularly uplifting. As the weather warms, people will increasingly open their windows, and the sound of church bells is a message of hope. 

2. Offer Family Counseling. 

Most families aren’t used to extended times of close proximity. Thrown schedules can be stressful. The added fear, sorrow, and economic anxiety we are experiencing can cause heightened levels of conflict. If you or your lay leaders have the training and are able, consider offering family counseling sessions for those who might need it. 

3. Hold Virtual Prayer Vigils. 

Many churches conduct prayer vigils during Holy Week. Why not hold on to that tradition, and expand it to last throughout the pandemic? Select a twenty-four hour period, then sign people up to focus prayer for an hour, and provide materials to guide meditations.

4. Set Up Hand-Washing Stations. 

People experiencing homelessness may find it particularly hard to practice the sanitation recommended to avoid COVID19 infection. Places that used to offer safe space—libraries, restaurants, and other public venues—are no longer available. The CDC reports that water temperature is less important to proper hand-washing than soap, duration, and friction. That’s good news, because simple handwashing stations composed of a large water jug with spigot, basin, hand soap, and paper towels, are easy to set up. You can find lots of examples on Pinterest. Consider creating a station on your church property. Ask parishioners to donate liquid hand soap and paper towels toward this ministry.

5. Be a Chaplain for Healthcare Workers. 

Healthcare professionals are increasingly called upon to make decisions about which patients can get ventilators so they have a chance to live, and which do not. Many are isolated from their own families, or live with them but worry about carrying infection home. The stressors this virus places on healthcare workers is staggering and not likely to improve soon. Offer to listen to and pray with them by phone or through private messaging so they can continue to save lives and you can improve theirs. If you have the bandwidth, this ministry can be extended to other essential workers as well.

6. Begin Offering Confession. 

Sacramental confession isn’t a part of most mainline denominational practice, but now’s the time to think about making it available. With death tolls rising, many of us will be faced with heartache about not having been able to say “I’m sorry,” or “I love you,” or “I forgive you” before a loved one passes. Sick people may feel desperate for the chance to unburden themselves. There is great emotional power in confessing our sins and receiving a blessing and affirmation in response. 

7. Hold Virtual Sunday School. 

You can find lots of online church options for adults, but not as many for children. Ask your Sunday School teachers to record some video. Parents will love you for it, and it will help create continuity and connection for the kids.

8. Plan a Community Garden. 

Food insecurity was a problem in our nation prior to the pandemic, and it is worse today. Community gardens and food-producing urban forests can help address the challenge, and they are also a way to create something positive in a trying moment. Making a plan to do something in the future is a cognitive technique to help people in despair, so get the gardeners in your congregation talking about where a garden could be created, what they can plant, and how they can contribute to its flourishing

9. Visit Nursing Homes. 

Those in long-term care facilities tend to be isolated even without the additional distancing the pandemic demands. Many of them don’t have access to technologies that allow connection to loved ones on the outside. While you won’t be able to go in to visit residents, you could make a big sign that says, “Can I pray for you?” and walk around the ground floor to smile and wave through windows. Check with the facility beforehand to make sure they don’t mind, and consider wearing a clerical collar or stole if you are clergy so residents have an easier time recognizing you as such.

10. Connect with Local Ministry Leaders. 

Once shelter-in-place orders lift, our communities won’t immediately return to life as it was before COVID19. Organize a Zoom meeting with leaders from your area churches to brainstorm what needs are likely to emerge and to discuss how you might work together to address them.

11. Begin Planning for the Next Emergency. 

If your church didn’t have a plan for a societal crisis before now, it’s time to create one. It’s only a matter of time before the next natural or economic disaster hits. Take notes about things you wish had been in place before COVID19 arrived, and start developing plans for how to get them instituted when life returns to normalcy.

We’re all looking forward to the day when we can rejoin our congregations, pass the peace, see each other’s faces, and share donuts during coffee hour. Until then, let’s try to use this time to share the love of Christ in new and necessary ways.

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