Pastors all over the world are having to think creatively and innovatively about how to minister to their congregations and communities, while still caring for the personal welfare and safety of people in these uncharted times of the COVID-19 virus. At Salem Avenue Baptist Church in Rolla, Missouri, we continue to monitor the recommendations of national and local officials. As a church, we continue to support the expert opinions and guidance from the CDC and the efforts to practice good hygiene, social distancing, and extra safety measures for all, especially the elderly and those that have preexisting conditions increasing their susceptibility to the negative effects of the disease.
Salem Avenue last held corporate worship services and Bible studies on our campus on March 15. We created a Wellness Task Force, a short-term team with the collaborative authority to help evaluate ministry opportunities and ways to best care for the needs of our church and community. Since that time, I have continued to correspond with the task force and communicate with the church about ways that we are trying to minister during the current pandemic.
Associate Pastor Sam Parker and I are uploading devotional videos to Facebook and our YouTube channel almost daily. I started a Sunday night Bible study on Facebook Live that has reached believers in our church, former communities where I have lived, extended family and friends, and ever overseas where I have traveled on mission trips. Most of our Sunday School classes are meeting via Zoom. Our deacons are making special efforts to reach out and check on those that live alone or are elderly. Staff adjusted to a skeleton crew to keep the office open but to also provide avenues for working from home.
We continue to try to look for ways to minister under these unique circumstances. While the virus provides great challenges for the church, it also ushers in great opportunities to minister in ways we have never done before. Mark Shults, one of the members of the Wellness Task Force, shared with me that he’d seen where a Catholic priest was providing confession for members that wanted to drive by as he sat at a social distance. While as Baptists we hold to the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, I was intrigued with the idea of connecting with people in our church and community in this way.
I decided that I would post on Facebook a date, time, and location for “Prayer From the Chair.” I would encourage church members to drive by to say hello or to request prayer. I wanted to be in a public place, so I could easily be accessible to all that wanted someone to pray for them. I strategically selected the local Veteran’s Park because it has a circular parking lot with curbside access.
On Thursday, April 2, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., I sat in a chair at the local park with a sign that read, “How Can I Pray for You, Today?” I was first greeted by a stranger named Diane. She had heard about what I was doing and wanted to swing by, requesting prayer.
Over the next couple hours, I had a couple of dozen people come through. One had been laid off from work due to the restaurant where he worked downsizing to curbside orders only. Many asked for prayer for their families that lived in various parts of the country, some of which have been hit hard by the spread of the virus. Some took a break from work to swing by. Others just stopped to say hello, missing the connection of their church family.
While some came to the park for prayer, others were too far away, had other commitments, or were at work. So, they requested prayer online through comments on Facebook, personal messages, or texts. In these cases, I was privileged to write responsive prayers for them, their loved ones, our church, and our community. Additionally, I spent time in personal prayer, Bible reading, meditating on the promises of God, reading, and observing the beauty of the creation in the park.
Usually, when we talk about the “power of prayer,” we falsely attribute the power to the activity of prayer, itself. There is no power inherently in prayer; it is merely the mechanism of our access to the power of God. The Lord is the source of all power, and this power is accessible to us as the children of God. The current of God’s power flows through us as we rely on the Lord and trust in the divine sovereignty of the kingdom. Such divine power seeks to transform us into the image and nature of Christ.
I have come to believe that God is not as concerned with our personal safety and comfort as we are. Rather, the Lord seeks to extend the kingdom of God on earth and invites us to be “the presence of Christ in the world, today.” Relationally, when we come together, the church becomes the Body of Christ, and I know of no better way for us to unite than in humbly kneeling before our Creator and Savior and submitting to the Lord God Almighty.
I hope to continue to periodically have “Prayer From the Chair.” I plan to vary the date and time to allow others to come that could not do so this time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to connect with people, even if it is in nontraditional ways, and to share the goodness and love of God. What a blessing to join with God in bringing the kingdom on earth that mirrors the kingdom in heaven (Matthew 6:10).