Creating “on-ramps” of connection

It is hard to believe that we’ve been living within the Covid-19 pandemic for over a year now. In March of 2020, all of our congregations needed to pivot to a new direction when we could not meet in-person anymore. To continue with the basketball analogy (I mean, we live in Indiana after all!) we have had to get really good at pivoting within the ever-changing Covid landscape.

Over this past year, it has been very important for us at Hope Moravian to create as many “on-ramps” as possible for people to connect with our congregation and to connect with God.

We always wanted more options, not less, to fit the variety of preferences among our members. In many of our congregations, the ways our people have both viewed Covid, and adapted to it, have been diverse in scope. There is quite a spectrum on when churches in our provinces decided to go back to in-person worship, or if they are still fully online as of this writing. I think it must be said that there is no right or wrong here, but that each congregation has needed to prayerfully consider what they would and would not do as an act of their faith. Also, within our Moravian theology, our Covid-related decision-making definitely falls within the “non-essentials, liberty” section!

When we started meeting again for in-person worship, we decided to meet in our Moravian Outreach Center. It is an open gym space where we could space out chairs for proper distancing and have them in clusters for individuals and families that were quarantined together. Our sanctuary was not quite as big and we realized that our pews were not nearly as movable!

One of the main on-ramps we initiated was starting a second service. We were a one-service church, yet we knew we could accommodate more people safely if we had two worship times. We adopted a 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. service schedule. While at first those services were exactly the same, we decided to make the 9 a.m. a contemporary service, and the 11 a.m. our traditional service. This has worked very well. People connect with God in different ways, so we wanted to offer different music options.

Throughout this time, we decided to get an FM radio transmitter for those not yet ready to enter the building. Our members could easily tune into 107.7 to hear the music, sermon and prayers. No one would’ve guessed over a year ago that Hope Moravian would have its own radio station!

Other on-ramps that fostered connection throughout this pandemic include Facebook Live streaming both Sunday services; continuing our Monday night free meal to the community, yet making the change to “take-out” only; an outdoor service on the front lawn of the church; short-term Zoom small-group studies using RightNow media; and at various times sending out a mid-week “Faith Lift” on Facebook, where I would feature a very short devotional or word of encouragement.

Out of all these on-ramps, the one that I got most excited about, and had the most community-wide reach was our Easter “Drive-thru” in our cemetery. The idea was sparked by Sister Amy Keller. She thought it would be neat for people to still have a joyful Easter experience even though we could not gather in the church building.

As people approached the cemetery, they were directed to tune their radio to 107.7 FM, where they could listen to a recorded loop of prayers, Scriptures highlighting Jesus’ resurrection, and triumphant music-—with, of course, “Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!” The self-guided tour included Scripture signs of the events leading up to our Lord’s resurrection, along with the “empty tomb,” a signature part of our cemetery, situated within the rock garden that has been there for decades.

Looking back at Easter 2020, I remember standing out on the parsonage lawn, witnessing car after car going through our cemetery throughout the entire day. The video that Sister Anita Watkins made of the event for Facebook was shared over 100 times and had over 6,000 views – probably the most views I have ever seen on our church Facebook page in the seven years I’ve been here. Easter 2020 was different for sure, but the people came out to celebrate just the same, hearing through the speakers of their vehicle, “The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed!”

Of course, it went so well last year, we invited the community out again for the Easter “drive-thru” experience in 2021. Through this Covid period and beyond, all of our congregations are being led to experiment – to “pivot” – initiating new ways for people to enter into a life-giving relationship with our Savior.

The Rev. Andy Kilps is pastor of Hope Moravian Church in Hope, Indiana.