Stepping up when told to step down

What does a church do in a pandemic when the world is told to shut down? Step up of course!

With the need for isolation and health concerns, the community of Watertown, Wisconsin and its areas shut down like most of the country. Schools closed, church gatherings stopped and many were concerned that even venturing outside was unsafe. Our local mayor had a meeting with many local leaders and wished to hear what each community mission was still able to do. The hospital explained its new protocols; the police and fire chiefs each shared updates; most agencies simply stated they were suspending all in person and office connections until further notice. This included our senior center, our local lodges, the library, many local churches and community gatherings.

Amazingly, two places never missed a beat: the local Meals on Wheels and the Moravian Loaves and Fishes Community Meal. Honestly, the discussion may have lasted five minutes when it came to “can we keep going and implement changes to keep everyone safe?” Without hesitation, the leadership teams from Ebenezer and Watertown Moravian Churches said we have “to go” containers, we will get masks, we have gloves and here we go.

Beginning in mid-March, the Monday evening in-person community meal went to a curbside pick-up meal. Numbers at this time of year average around 80-90, and over these many weeks, they have skyrocketed to over 200, a record for us in our 10th year of food ministry. We partnered with Marquardt Village, the local Moravian care facility, and have 40 meals delivered to their independent residents weekly. Volunteers have continued to show up, including some new faces that have brought breath, creativity and chocolate!

In addition to the curbside meal, each car receives a bag full of groceries for the week. They include desserts and bread. One of the challenges was providing drinks, as milk and coffee are a staple for the meal but not easy to serve “to go.” A wonderful friend of the Ebenezer congregation called the local grocery store and set up a milk delivery, so that each week 40 or more gallons of milk are delivered that also go home in each car. Food is overflowing. Concerns over funding arose as some of the annual costs are offset by catering, but many unexpected donations have come through and we are so thankful for the generosity. We continue to have faith that needs will be met.

It is easy to see ourselves as the vulnerable, as most of us fall into the “mature” category. Yet, we knew that this is the exact time when church, ministry and faith are needed the most. We encouraged those who wished to stay home to do so, but they are all still coming. The volunteer teams are still arriving; the donations from local grocery stores are flowing.

We all want to care for each other, especially at this time. From the moment things shut down, the words we hear most are, “How can I help?” We have not wanted or worried; we have not let bad hips and staircases stop us. Now, more than ever, safe interaction is needed, even in that brief moment of a car pulling up, a person walking up or kids riding their bikes over each week. We still need community. We still need food. We still need one another. And if its ever proven itself once and for all, we still need ministry! n

Katie Van Der Linden is pastor of Ebenezer Moravian Church in Watertown, Wis.