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Troublesome times: As A global pandemic rages, Churches of Christ adapt to what has changed ... and cling to what hasn't.
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Troublesome times

As a global pandemic rages, Churches of Christ adapt to what has changed — and cling to what hasn't.

The virus changed everything. And nothing.

As the African nation of Tanzania recorded its first death from COVID-19, a Church of Christ in a tiny village of the Maasai people stopped its practice of every member shaking every other member’s hand after worship.

Instead, they stood in a circle, nodded and waved. Missionary Ralph Williams said, “The young guys thought it was hilarious to touch ankles instead of shaking hands.”

A Church of Christ among the Maasai people has set up a hand-washing station. Its members spread out as worship concludes.

A Church of Christ among the Maasai people has set up a hand-washing station. Its members spread out as worship concludes.

In Italy, as the coronavirus death toll approached 14,000, conversations in the home of Scott and Rebecca Shanahan went like this:

“OK, I’m going to the store. Can you print a form for me?”

Rebecca Shanahan

Rebecca Shanahan

“Yes. Do you have your passport?”

The whole country is on lockdown, and the Church of Christ they serve in Florence can meet only online.

So they organize worship through WhatsApp, each man sending his assigned prayer or Scripture reading through video or text message. “Also, nobody can stop our church jokester, Giovanni, from sending us a joke every day,” Rebecca Shanahan said.

And in Ocala, Fla., as U.S. deaths from COVID-19 mount, “Work has slowed, businesses and restaurants are closed, and our church has chosen to shut its physical doors,” said John “Beef” Branard, youth minister for the Maricamp Road Church of Christ.

The church posts sermons online, and leaders have split up the roster “so that we can reach out to every single person on a regular basis,” Branard said. “I’ve found that our members are using this time to dive into the Word, pray more intentionally and practice some of the other spiritual disciplines that were so easily forgotten when life was ‘normal’ a few weeks ago.”

Good Morning Church! This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to begin the…

Posted by Maricamp Road Church of Christ on Saturday, April 4, 2020

Nearly every person on planet earth, it seems, has been impacted in some way by the pandemic.

Worship has changed. Health care has changed. Daily life has changed.

At press time, COVID-19 had infected nearly 2 million people in 210 countries and territories and claimed more than 118,000 lives. (See the latest numbers.) Lockdowns and shutdowns are expected to last for months to come.

Health officials and political leaders equate the battle against the pandemic to a war, bringing to mind the gospel standard “Jesus is Coming Soon,” written by R.E. Winsett in the midst of World War II.

“Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear; Freedom we all hold dear, now is at stake …”

Worship has changed. Health care has changed. Daily life has changed.

The Christian Chronicle spoke with preachers adapting to new technology, Christians in medicine on the front lines of the pandemic and church members sequestered in their homes as they navigate the new normal. They shared stories of the changes they’ve endured — some small and humorous, others huge and heartbreaking — in the past month.

Dawnna Hale

Dawnna Hale

They also talked about the underlying truth that will never change.

“Every single day is full of reminders that God is there for us,” said Dawnna Hale, a member of the Pitman Road Church of Christ in Sewell, N.J. Sometimes those reminders are as simple as the fragrance from a cup of blueberry tea, she said.

When she’s still, “Suddenly, I’m not as afraid of this virus. I feel peace.”

The Corona Church of Christ

“Why do we have to call it coronavirus?”

Terri Mays

Terri Mays

Terri Mays has heard the question a few times since the pandemic began. The minister’s wife and a cappella recording artist is, after all, a member of the Corona Church of Christ, which meets in California’s Riverside County, about 30 minutes east of Los Angeles.

The newly infamous name caused a few Chronicle readers to do a double take when they saw the church listed among congregations livestreaming their worship services.

“It’s a badly, poorly named disease,” said Scott Mazo, one of five elders who serve a diverse mix of 120 members — white, black and Latino. The church has services in English and Spanish.

The Corona Church of Christ meets about 25 miles east of Anaheim, Calif.

The Corona Church of Christ meets about 25 miles east of Anaheim, Calif.

They were relative neophytes in the world of live webcasting but had little choice after California discouraged gatherings of 10 or more in mid-March, Mazo said. By the end of the month, 93 percent of Protestant churches in the U.S. had closed their doors, according to a poll conducted by Nashville, Tenn.-based LifeWay Research. At the same time, the percentage of churches that livestream jumped from 22 percent to 65 percent.

The transition wasn’t easy, said minister Willie Mays, who went from preaching to an auditorium full of churchgoers to talking into a screen, with a small image of himself looking back.

“It was definitely very humbling,” he said. Although he’s preached for more than two decades, “this is just a brand new, unprecedented territory.”

Willie Mays preaches during a livestream service of the Corona Church of Christ.

Willie Mays preaches during a livestream service of the Corona Church of Christ.

The church was studying the prophetic book of Revelation as the words “social distancing” came into the vernacular. The book demonstrates that “if you stay ready with God, you’re always ready no matter what happens,” Willie Mays said. “This life is not the end.”

The church continues to operate the Corona Bible Institute, offering online courses through Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute, where Willie Mays earned a ministry degree. The church’s elders do their best to stay in touch with members, especially elderly ones who aren’t up on the latest technology, Mazo said.

Valor y Fe

Dios esta con nosotros apesar de las circustancias que por el momento no entendemos.Dia: 03-22-20Text: Candelario Rodriguez

Posted by Iglesia de Cristo en Corona on Saturday, March 21, 2020

“This isn’t ideal. This isn’t a new paradigm for worship, God meant for us to be together,” Mazo said. But in troublesome times, “God has created a way for us to be the church.”

Terri Mays has been on conference calls with the church’s women, discussing books, including one on overcoming anxiety. Although much has changed in the past month, “what has not changed is the power of God,” she said. “He still is in control. God is working, whatever the plague.”

Serving on the front lines

“I had my first patient die tonight because of COVID,” said Kym Langford, a nurse from Oklahoma who volunteered to work for three weeks at Harlem Hospital Center in New York. “Three days ago, they were going to discharge him. He was getting better. … It just turned so fast.”

Kym Langford shows some of the gear she uses to treat COVID patients in NYC.

Kym Langford shows some of the gear she uses to treat COVID patients in NYC.

That’s the nature of the disease, said Langford, a mother of three who worships with The Springs Church of Christ in Edmond, Okla., and teaches in the nursing program at Oklahoma Christian University. She was four days into her stint in New York, where coronavirus cases were nearing 50,000.

KFOR-TV featured OC alum, instructor and nurse Kym Langford ('14) who stepped up to serve others in the heat of…

Posted by Oklahoma Christian University on Sunday, April 5, 2020

“I knew it was going be hard. I didn’t think it was going be this hard,” she said. Two days earlier, the hospital had opened a new unit with 50 beds. It was already full.

“I knew it was going be hard. I didn’t think it was going be this hard.”

Some patients didn’t even have beds. They were on stretchers.

Langford had to improvise, drawing from her six years of experience as a missionary in Uganda, where she coordinated medical campaigns. In New York, she rigged a coat hanger to serve as a makeshift IV pole.

Across the U.S., supplies are running low, especially the coveted N95 medical masks.

Krystal Willis

Krystal Willis

In Atlanta, paramedic Krystal Willis worked seven 12-hour shifts with the same mask, during which she treated four known cases of COVID-19.

“Everyone is checked for symptoms and temps before we can get on an ambulance,” said Willis, a member of the North Macon Church of Christ who works for Grady Memorial Hospital. “It’s hard to find food during shift. Everyone is on edge.

“The way we treat people has changed,” she said. “We are no longer allowed to intubate cardiac arrest patients. We can no longer give nebulized breathing treatments. … This is really hard for us.”

She’s lost a family member to the virus, and she’s seen coworkers sent home because they’ve shown symptoms. She showers immediately after each shift and tries to limit contact with her children, ages 13 and 15. So does her husband, a police officer who serves at a hospital.

“This is real,” Willis said. “I miss church. At a time like this, I really need church.”

On Sundays the family watches videos from previous Polishing the Pulpit workshops, sings and takes the Lord’s Supper.

“I am praying for each of my patients more. I am silently begging God for this to be over. And … I am praying we don’t bring this home. Every little cough is followed by a prayer. Every sneeze is followed by a prayer.”

“My prayers are different now,” Willis said. “I am praying for each of my patients more. I am silently begging God for this to be over.

“And … I am praying we don’t bring this home. Every little cough is followed by a prayer. Every sneeze is followed by a prayer.”

In Rome, Italy, “at the end of the day in an intensive care unit, the only thing you need is to be on your knees, praying to God,” said Dr. Vittorio Vitalone, a physician and an elder of the Viale Jonio Church of Christ.

Dr. Vittorio Vitalone

Dr. Vittorio Vitalone

He specializes in cancer therapy and hasn’t yet seen any COVID-19 patients. Many Italian doctors have died from the disease — some he knew personally.

But he noted that as the pandemic multiplies, so does the number of people who have recovered from it — some 440,000 and growing exponentially.

“I receive many questions: ‘Doctor, what will happen? What will be the end?’” he said. “My answer is always the same: ‘I don’t know, but I know that there is someone wiser than me that could offer you the answer.’ God is in control.”

Kym Langford

Kym Langford

Back in New York, “I’ve been praying a lot, more than I ever had,” Langford said. She tries to share the peace she receives with her patients.

During the same shift when she lost a patient, she had to tell another that he had tested positive for the virus. He was terrified.

Then he told the nurse, “Thank you for being so kind. Will you be back tomorrow?”

“I told him, ‘I will,’” Langford said.

Saying ‘I do’ in the midst of a pandemic

“Troubles will soon be o’er, happy forevermore, when we meet on that shore, free from all care …”

Newlyweds Vern and Ryan Paul.

Newlyweds Vern and Ryan Paul.

Members of the Long Island Church of Christ in New York got a foretaste of heaven, alluded to in Winsett’s hymn, as they watched church members Ryan Paul and Vern Ferdinand get married.

The couple had to postpone their formal ceremony for 170 guests, canceling the venue, flights and hotels. They decided to wed in the home of minister Pedro Gelabert in front of 25 family members and friends. By then even a gathering of that size was deemed unsafe.

So they took their vows standing 6 feet from Gelabert, who wore a big, protective face shield. The matron of honor — the sole, in-person witness — sent a link on the Zoom videoconferencing program to the guests. Nearly 100 watched online.

Minister Pedro Gelabert, in protective gear, stood 6 feet away from the couple.

Minister Pedro Gelabert, in protective gear, stood 6 feet away from the couple.

“It was incredible!” said church member Rebecca Young. Ferdinand “has been waiting patiently for years to be blessed with a God-fearing man. It was exciting, and it brought a moment of hope for us New Yorkers. We said that we will never forget this wedding, ever!”

The virus changed everything. And nothing.

Filed under: church and quarantine corona Corona California Coronavirus covid Covid and church COVID-19 covid19 International Italy and coronavirus Italy and COVID-19 National quarantine Tanzania Top Stories

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