U.S. Mennonite Brethren were not exempt from the ripple effect of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, which caused a chain reaction of closures, cancellations and preventative measures around the world in 2020.
COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. By Jan. 21, 2020, a case had been confirmed in the United States. The World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11.
As a result of the contagious nature of the respiratory disease, restrictions were put in place limiting public gatherings, including church gatherings, to 250 people, then 50, then 10, per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social distancing guidelines recommended staying 6 feet from people at all times.
Many states issued stay-at-home orders to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, closing businesses deemed non-essential. Restaurants transitioned to drive-thru, pickup or delivery only. Schools closed their doors, and students did online learning at home. The coronavirus-related disruptions meant people lost their jobs. Gallup reports that as of late April nearly one in three Americans was experiencing job or income disruption because of COVID-19.
As the nation shut down, the church stepped up, with USMB pastors pivoting quickly to transition to an online-only format and continue to serve their congregations well. Churches offered livestream or online services, reached out in love to their communities and found new and creative ways of staying connected.
Click on the photos below to initiate a slideshow with captions showing ways our USMB family is utilizing technology to move church services online, conducting community outreach and facilitating other aspects of creative church ministry.
USMB pastors filmed messages from the stage and the living room, encouraging “faith over fear” in “unprecedented times.”
Forrest Jenan, Lead Pastor of Neighborhood Church in Visalia, Calif., writes this in an email update: “We determine how we will live. We get to decide our response to COVID-19: Will we become paralyzed by our fear? Will we stick our head in the sand and pretend none of this is happening? Or will we live as though Easter still matters and that the crucified and risen Savior is our God and the one true God of our world. Will we choose to live as though love still wins and in the end light will always overcome darkness? And while I have no answers to why God has chosen us to be on the front lines in this season of history, here we stand, how will we be remembered?“
Churches looked outside their walls and found ways to bring help and hope to neighbors and those in need.
An email newsletter from Mountain View Church in Fresno, Calif., states: “As the Church, we have been presented an incredible opportunity. We are reminded to have faith, trust the Lord and not fear. We have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus by connecting with others, praying with people, reassuring each other. This is not a time to isolate but to reach out. We the church are more than a building. We are a people of great faith with a purpose to share God’s generosity and joy with others.”
Churches found creative ways to stay connected, whether through video conference Bible studies, social distance small group gatherings and youth/kids’ ministries.
Nathan Ensz, Pastor of Kingwood Bible Church in Salem, Ore., says this in an email newsletter: “That which we find comfort and security in has been stripped from us. Employment has shifted for a season. Community has shifted for a season. Interaction with neighbors, while likely greater than ever before, is still done at such distance…in this season. Church gatherings have shifted for a season. Social gatherings are on hold, finances are tightened, entertainment is halted, and daily rhythms once accustomed to have vanished. All this is for a season. What an opportunity we have in this season to draw near the Lord like never before. We have no choice whether or not we experience this season; but we do have a choice whether or not we emerge changed because of this season. The change will come if we choose to draw near the Lord in this season.”
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Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.