On January 20, 2020 the news broke about the first known case of COVID-19 on United States soil. In less than two months’ time, news that had once felt far away was suddenly hitting close to home. In North Haledon, Restore Church made the decision to close its campus on March 13. Cedar Hill Church in Wyckoff closed on March 15. Ridgewood CRC cancelled service on March 15 and then closed its doors to all groups on March 21. And the much-anticipated Global Prayer Safari 2020, which would have brought 30 international intercessors from Africa into locations throughout New York and New Jersey, was cancelled. It was supposed to be held starting April 16 and included a stop at EC.
Several local leaders shared thoughts about how their communities of faith have switched gear during Coronavirus and offer comfort to those struggling to accept the new normal.
A New Normal
Building closures have stretched the creativity of local faith leaders. Pastor John Algera, former pastor of Madison Ave CRC, has utilized virtual meeting technology in several of the ministries he plays a role in, including Dawn Treader, Paterson Habitat for Humanity, and Star of Hope Ministries. One of the more interesting initiatives to arise out of the Coronavirus epidemic is a prayer movement in Paterson called Ecclesia, which includes a daily prayer call at noon.
All three pastors interviewed for the story—Pastors Jeremy Mulder, Mary Stegink and Michael Johnson—have also made use of technology to ensure that local services continue. Restore, for example, asks families to post photos and tag @restoreNJ while the live stream worship services are occurring. Many small group meetings are continuing thanks to virtual technologies, and new initiatives start every day. Stegink, for example, has implemented an emailed “Morning Message” every day.
In spite all of the messages of doom and gloom within mainstream media, local pastors have remarked on some of the unexpected blessings from this new lifestyle—blessings that bring us back to the Author and Finisher of our faith. “It has provided an opportunity for us to take stock, not merely of our canned goods or how much toilet paper we have, but of what truly matters. If we take advantage of that and surrender this time to the Lord, there may be blessing for us in all of this,” shares Johnson.
Algera agrees. “I believe many have been using this as an unexpected ‘Sabbath rest and delight’ to spend more time with the Lord than they were before and find deeper meaning in the Word and promises of God that they were glossing over before.”
And even in the worst of times, our hope is elsewhere. Mulder adds, “Even as we might feel somewhat helpless, the church maintains our hope that God is bigger than a virus.”
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