COVID-19 has pushed churches all over Loudon County to shut their doors to the public, but many leaders are doing what they can to keep the spirit alive in their congregations in a time where face-to-face interactions are limited.
Among the churches, First Baptist Church in Tellico Village, Loudon United Methodist Church, the Community Church at Tellico Village and New Providence Baptist Church have moved services to online platforms. The most popular choice has been streaming services and prayer groups live on Facebook for members to join in.
The Rev. Charlie Barnard, pastor at FBC in Tellico Village, is giving sermons in the church sanctuary while a camera records and streams to Facebook. New Providence has created a “makeshift studio” in the sanctuary, the Rev. Mark Caldwell, church pastor, said.
“In addition to (posting recordings of sermons to Facebook), we have some older people who may not be on Facebook or have access to it,” the Rev. Amy Cook, Loudon UMC pastor, said.
“So ... WLNT has been letting me do a recording, and it’ll play at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning on the radio.”
Besides recording, posting and streaming services, churches are taking extra steps to ensure members are not “feeling abandoned,” Cook said. She has been posting “bedtime stories” on the church’s Facebook page for members to listen to at home.
“Just bedtime Bible stories, and I post them at about 11 p.m. because I’m trying to get people to avoid watching 24/7 news or the evening news just to have some kind of assurance and a calm voice at the end of the day,” Cook said. “It’s literally a bedtime story out of a children’s book, but it’s intended for grown-ups to give us all a moment together to remember about God’s promises and faithfulness in the past and how he’s with us now to try to remind people to take care of each other.”
The Rev. Kem Lindsay, associate pastor at FBC in Tellico Village, said they are also looking into using Zoom, a video chatting site that enables calls of up to 15 people, to conduct prayer groups initially hosted in the homes of church members.
“We’re still trying to do ministry,” Barnard said. “We work closely with Steekee Elementary (School), the principal there, Donna Stapleton is a member here. … I was on the phone with her this morning … and we’re standing ready to do what needs to be done to help feed the kids over there, whatever needs to be done.”
Reaching out to members is vital during these days.
“Our church leadership, we’ve produced a current list of phone numbers and email addresses and all that of our entire church family to our church leadership,” Caldwell said. “We’re asking each of (the church leaders) to contact our entire church family, you know, regularly.”
Even though some offices are closed, it is important for members to know, like in the case of the Community Church at Tellico Village, that prayer and other requests are still being heard.
“We have a prayer link off of our website,” the Rev. Stephen Prevatte, senior pastor, said. “People can go in and enter tellicochurch.com/prayer, and they can enter in a prayer request. … That generates an email that comes to the pastors, and we will pray for them and their situation.
“People can also call the church main number, and if they have a prayer request or a pastoral care need, they can leave a message. That actually will generate an email to the pastors as well since the offices are now closed.”
While services are being held online, church members are sanitizing sanctuaries, fellowship halls and various classrooms.
“I know each church has got to do whatever feels is the thing for them,” Barnard said.