Recent events have proven that the church is more than a building, according to local church leaders.

The spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has forced religious leaders to find creative ways to continue their work in the community.

Rev. Allen McClendon, a pastor at Allen Temple AME Church, live-streamed his message on Sunday titled “I ain’t scared.”

“During this time, we have to choose peace over panic, faith over fear, kindness over nastiness, and consideration over selfishness,” McClendon said.

McClendon said Sunday was the first time Allen Temple had ever streamed a service online. The message had more than 130 viewers, a much higher turnout than the 40-50 people McClendon usually sees on Sundays.

“(The reason for the increase) is two-fold. (Online streaming) allows people to receive the word from the comfort of their own homes. I’m sure some people hadn’t gotten up to put on clothes, they were watching in their pajamas,” McClendon laughed. “...and I anticipate, during this time, people need an encouraging word.”

In his message, McClendon encouraged his congregation to have faith in God and to do their part during this crisis.

“We still have to do our part by practicing social distancing and following the instruction of the CDC and other health professionals,” McClendon said. “We still have to do our part. The church is not closed, the building is. The church is the individuals.”

Brookhaven Wesleyan Church has been live-streaming their services for months, but recently had to switch to a different streaming service due to system overload.

Lead pastor Tony Bye said their online attendance numbers have been high since the church closed the service to the public two weeks ago.

“People have been sharing it with their friends who may not even go to church,” Bye said. “That’s exciting.”

Bye said he has had to adjust to not having the energy of the congregation present when he is preaching.

“People interact with you with their faces, with their eyes, with their body language, and that’s just not happening,” Bye said. “That’s one of the things that’s harder about it.”

Although the people of his church are not present physically, Bye said he is grateful for the way the church has stayed connected during this time.

“I am feeling grateful at the way our church has stepped up and has been checking on each other,” Bye said. “They have really made the mission of the church go forward even though we are not able to meet corporately on a physical site.”

Bye said he believes the community will make it through this time if people depend on each other and connect with people in new ways.

Emily Vermilya, the executive pastor of College Wesleyan Church, said her team was running on creative energy during the first week, but the energy changed this Sunday.

“The first week, it was like a puzzle that we were trying to figure out. I think (Sunday) there was a little more sadness,” Vermilya said. “The empty sanctuary was just loud. It was obvious to us that all of our people were not there, and settling into (feeling that) this could be a new reality for us for a little while.”

The College Wesleyan Church staff is focused on connecting with the members of their congregation during this time, Vermilya said.

“Our first action has been just calling as many of our people as we can, just to touch base with people, making sure that they feel known and missed, making sure people have what they need,” Vermilya said.

Staying connected with other people is essential for one’s mental, emotional and social wellbeing, Vermilya said.

“A lot of our network, our connectedness happens in the places and spaces that we go every day. It’s not always scheduled meetings. It’s who you run in to,” Vermilya said. “And that’s not happening now.”

As the virus spreads closer to home, Vermilya said she believes connection with others will help people navigate the challenges to come.

“If people are feeling lonely or feeling disconnected, Grant County is rich with churches and people who are making creative efforts to stay connected,” Vermilya said. “This is a great place to find community.”

In a press conference on Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb thanked Indiana faith leaders for streaming their services.

“If ever there was an essential service, our houses of worship are on top of that list, right next to our doctors and nurses,” Holcomb said. “Let’s continue to spread the word, not COVID-19.”

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