Amid social distancing and virtual services, the congregation at Second Missionary Baptist Church found a way to show their pastor appreciation.
With the help of a mass calling system Pastor William Smith implemented to remind members about services, the congregation, this time, used it to invite everyone to show up in the church’s parking lots, following social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, to cheer him on for a job well done.
“I was really shocked because I’m a hard person to surprise,” said Smith.
That morning, Smith was working in his office, and he kept looking at the church’s camera system and wondering why there were so many cars outside. Since it was the first of the month and tithes and offerings could be dropped off on Saturdays between 10 and 12 p.m., he figured people were making their offerings. He thought nothing else of it, he said.
Then, his wife asked him to step out of his office, telling him that one of the members needed to talk to him.
He went outside, and members were in all of the church’s parking lots, some with signs, some with balloons, and all of them cheering.
“It gave me encouragement as a pastor to just keep on doing what I’ve been doing, and then also it just gave me joy because I really miss our congregation. I really do. I miss our interaction, our personal interaction,” Smith said.
The surprise came at just the right time, too. The day before, Smith had been feeling down since he hadn’t seen any members in person since the restrictions due to COVID-19 were implemented. In fact, he had just made a post on Facebook about how much he missed seeing his congregation and their “smiling faces.”
So to be able to see those faces the next day, he said, was uplifting.
“I really was missing them because there’s just nothing like a church family, and for a pastor also I’m not able to be with my family, my parents, and those kinds of things. My wife is not able to (be with her parents) because we moved here to Indiana. And you adopt your church family as your extended family, so it was just a joy to be able to have them to encourage you,” he said.
During the shutdown, Smith has worked to keep the church functioning and parishioners connected. He’s been having office hours for members to call, leading conference calls, writing grant proposals, calling members – especially seniors and those living alone, hosting “Pop-Up Praise and Worship” Wednesdays through a broadcast, and leading and preaching during an online worship service every Sunday.
The services have been going “very well,” he said. He’s been tracking around 500 to 600 viewers for services, which was higher than typical Sunday attendance. The church’s membership also has increased during this time.
Smith said the nature of the pandemic and the isolation and uncertainty some people are feeling were causing more people to connect spiritually.
“I think that’s the biggest thing with the church. The church is a community, and when individuals also realize the church is here and really cares and during a time like this, you begin to think about life much differently than before,” he said. “So I think it’s just an opportunity for individuals to realize that I’m not only concerned about my right now, but I’m also concerned about my eternal security.”
Starting last Friday, places of worship in Indiana could resume in-person services. However, despite missing his congregation, Smith said he’s holding off on resuming services at the church.
Smith pointed to a recent article he read that described churches since they’re one of the first places to be allowed to reopen, as basically being “test subjects.”
“That is not our desire. I do not want my members to be test subjects to find out whether they’re going to catch this virus or not. I want to remain vigilant in our virtual worship, continuing that and continuing our online experiences,” Smith said.
Starting this week, those services expanded more to include community chat rooms where the membership could meet and greet with the pastor and share prayer requests and concerns. Smith said these types of services will continue to be offered, and the soonest he was looking to return in-person services was the first Sunday in June, though that could be pushed back as well if COVID-19 numbers locally continue to increase.
During this time, the church also has continued to give back to the community. As a tithing missionary church, Smith said the goal was to always give back at least 10 percent of what comes into the church. Over the past month, more than $10,000 has been given to local, domestic, and foreign charities. Local donations have been made to Coordinated Assistance Ministries Inc., Habitat for Humanity, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Clinic of Hope, Family Service Association’s Prevent Child Abuse, and Kokomo Rescue Mission.
“Even during a time like this, the ministry of the church does not stop. It keeps going at a greater pace during tough times because we know we have the answer. I am grateful for the universe and the unique way every church and pastor is working to do its part to make a difference in our communities,” Smith said.