“Anything we can do to facilitate community, is what we’re trying to do, so people aren’t feeling so isolated.” That’s what Reverend Jeff Hudgins said Floyd Baptist Church is doing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to keep the congregation strong and connected.
Last Sunday, the church transitioned to virtual services amid Gov. Northam’s restrictions on public gatherings of ten or more people, as well as Southwest Virginia’s first positive case of coronavirus in Botetourt County. According to Hudgins, Floyd Baptist held a virtual service via Facebook Live last Sunday, but is also using Zoom, a video-conferencing platform, to conduct its normal Bible Study classes.
Hudgins said video-conferencing is especially valuable because “Those virtual worship services only allow for the people being videotaped to be seen and heard, whereas Zoom allows people to have some sense of community together.”
It will take some equipment training to get people up to speed on new technologies, Hudgins said, which is difficult during the pandemic. He is considering filming a webinar on how to use Zoom, or holding a training in the church’s fellowship hall, where social spacing recommendations will be followed. The extra effort is worth it, though, for the end result of making people feel supported during a difficult time. “It just allows everybody to talk, you can see faces, and I think that’s so important right now,” Hudgins said.
Already, Hudgins said, a 70-year-old congregant has been trained on Zoom and downloaded the program to her at-home computer. “She’s going to be leading her (Bible Study) class through that, which I’m excited about.” During last Sunday’s Facebook Live service, Hudgins tried to maintain some of the routine of a church service virtually.
“I did a pre-service where I kind of let conversation, commenting, prayer requests and stuff like that happen,” Hudgins said. While the adjustments have been challenging in some ways, Hudgins said that forcing the church to adopt more modern methods of worship will be “one of the things I sense that will be something good that happens out of the bad.”
One of the issues that churches face with maintaining active congregations, Hudgins said, is that everybody has different work schedules and is available to worship at different times. “This will help us move into a more online worship offering,” Hudgins said. While currently Floyd Baptist is offering only synchronous online worship, meaning it is streamed live and congregants need to tune in simultaneously to view the service.
Moving forward, Hudgins hopes to soon offer asynchronous worship options, such as YouTube videos uploaded to the church’s website that congregants can view at their leisure.
Over at Floyd United Methodist Church, Pastor Timothy Hale shares the goal of offering asynchronous worship services, and is already uploading pre-recorded videos to the church’s website. “We thought doing (that) would be better than livestreaming, because some congregants don’t have great internet,” Hale said.
After recording the week’s video—which includes a sermon from him, several prayers, and musical performances, in some cases submitted by church members—Hale posts the result on the church’s Facebook page, as well as sending it out via email to the congregation.
Asked how he’s found the adjustment to virtual services as a church leader, Hale said, “Well, it’s different. They didn’t teach us how to do video editing and stuff in seminary.” He added, “But I’ve had fun with it, and I’ve heard a lot of good things from my congregants.”
Hale said the biggest adjustment for him personally has been figuring out how to administer pastoral care while respecting social distancing guidelines. Typically, Hale would visit with congregants in person, including visiting elderly folks at local nursing homes. “A lot of pastoral care (now) has been texting and calling. I can’t do the nursing homes right now,” Hale said. Skyline Rehabilitation Center, for example, has restricted all visitor access to the facility.
Floyd UMC’s congregation has stayed connected despite the distance, though. Hale said the church’s Sunday School classes have started email threads. “They’ll send out a scripture passage and a question, then reply-all with answers,” Hale said. “Those that don’t email, the teachers will call them. We also already had a prayer chain where we call with urgent prayer requests and stuff like that, so we’re utilizing that stuff more,” he said.
Hale also pointed out that virtual services in some ways make it easier for the church to grow, and reach more people. “What I’ve heard is, (the congregation) is watching videos and then they’re forwarding it on to other people,” Hale said. “One church member called me and she took (the video) to her elderly mother, because her mother couldn’t use the computer.”
These services, Hale said, are “more portable, more accessible.” Despite all the obstacles, members of the congregation are still “showing up” for each other. “I think the congregation’s holding up pretty well. I’ve had people volunteer to help others,” Hale said. “One (church member) left eggs in my mailbox today, because Food Lion doesn’t have any eggs, and she’s got a farm.”
Currently, Floyd Baptist Church has been directed by its deacons to stay closed until March 29, at which point the guidelines will be reevaluated. Floyd United Methodist Church is closed “until further notice,” according to its website.
On Monday, Citizens Telephone Cooperative announced a plan to help local churches air their services on television. “Citizens would like to extend an offer to all local churches in our service areas of Floyd, Ft. Chiswell, and New Castle to air weekly sermons on CCTV Channel 20,” the announcement said. To participate in the new program, churches should record the sermon using any digital camera or smartphone/tablet and send the file via WeTransfer.com to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the church name, contact name, contact phone number, pastor name, and date of the sermon.