Miracles and Mission in the Midst of Suffering

May 8, 2020 | | GNJ News, The Relay

Much like no coronavirus or disaster is the same, so can be said about how churches respond in times of crisis. We’ve entered an unprecedented time, so the need to be courageous in the face of adversity can come in many shapes and sizes. Like a puzzle, GNJ churches are connecting through mission, the passion to help others and the commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus. Each puzzle piece is important in creating a cohesive group of 530 churches working together as one—from “Gospel Slam Fridays,” watch parties to virtual youth groups to a sandwich ministry and more. In fact, more than 500 GNJ churches are now worshipping online!

The congregation of a tiny church in Sussex County appropriately called Tranquility UMC has tapped into whatever resources they have to feed the growing number of hungry members of their small community.

Unable to run its traditional food pantry, the congregation led by church member Barbara Gardiner, placed a used green file cabinet on its property filled with non-perishables like bottled juices and canned tuna and soup.

“We know that many people in our area have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic or are just having a difficult time getting enough food on the table,” said Gardiner.

Members of Park Avenue St. John’s UMC in East Orange who were unable to come to church for different reasons are now able to join a service. “People from many states and a few people from as far away as Guyana in South America have joined us for service,” said Senior Pastor Lark McCalman who added that he also received a request from someone in Maryland to be a new member. Members from other churches, other denominations and other states join St. John’s service regularly for prayer service and Bible study.

“God is helping us to engage in something new, and to move beyond our comfort zones. God opened new possibilities and new avenues for us to seek those that are lost,” said McCalman.

In Wesmont UMC in Camden County, disciples are being born and reborn. Rev. Debbie Barnett said one person who had been a member as a child and is now in her 60s has come back to Wesmont’s worship services and the church to keep the online services going even after social distancing allows in-person worship.

In East Brunswick the energy normally felt in the sanctuary of Calvary Korean UMC was instead felt online in April as a talented group of musicians played several instruments and sang a virtual rendition of “God is Your Keeper. To listen, https://youtu.be/gUKmhc1TNVc

Further south in Medford the sounds of bells chiming were heard online as the newly-formed “Lonesome Soundman Ringers” at Medford UMC played a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” to a live audience of none but an online audience of about a thousand. The music can be heard here: www.facebook.com/MedfordUMC/videos/242420976864842/.

There are hundreds of examples of churches reaching out to their congregations and communities in new and innovative ways:

Absecon UMC rang their bells at noon on Easter Sunday as a sign of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and an act of solidarity in the fight to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. During Easter week, he held a drive through prayer walk with prayer stations set up in the parking lot. In addition to worship and prayer services as well as book study groups, Rev. Chris Miller has been hosting “Coffee with Chris” every morning and online worship services on YouTube at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday to stay connected to his congregation. Absecon UMC also offers a special children’s worship service as well as a video showing how congregants can create their own family or personal altar space for worship. To help better connect with its congregation, the church also shared a survey to assess the status and needs of its church community. Check out their Facebook page, which includes videos on all their programs.

Lifegate UMC in Somers Point has awakened the Spirit of God in their congregation. Through online worship, prayer and daily devotion, one member organized an online group chat for other Lifegate members where she shares the daily devotions that she receives. This small act of faithfulness has grown into the desire and call for others in the congregation to lead an online Bible studies using her daily devotions as a start. For the month of May Lifegate is also going to celebrate Mom, whether she is biological, adoptive mom, or even a spiritual mom by compiling the photos they receive into a special video presentation for Mother’s Day, May 10. More information at www.lifegatenj.org/

Trinity UMC Hackettstown is continuing their food pantry by now handing out pre-boxed food to an average of 55 families a week, or an estimated 150-200 people. The church is also receiving surplus free lunches from the board of education (lunches that are offered to low income families but not being picked up) and giving those out to neighborhood families each Saturday, as well as partnering with four local restaurants by distributing their food.

About 125 meals have been delivered so far. They are participating in the face mask ministry and continue to worship and meet in small groups virtually as well. www.catchthespirit.org/spring-small-groups/.

Rev. Enger Muteteke at Good Shepherd UMC in Northfield said one of her members, a 91-year old woman, calls her every Wednesday to check on her and her family and double check the church’s prayer number and code through Zoom.

“The first week she called me, I was tired and really needed to call the other senior members to give them the prayer number and code,” said Muteteke. “The Lord heard my silent prayer and answered me. This woman in our conversation said to me, ‘Pastor, do you want me to call people for you and give them the prayer number and code?’ What a blessing her offer was to my spirit and soul! To this day, she is the one who calls all senior members every Wednesday afternoon or Tuesday evening to remind them of our prayer call and give them the prayer number and code.”

In addition to online worship, communion and prayer, Good Shepherd UMC hosts “Gospel Slam Fridays” when the congregation shares in fellowship online through music.

Vernon UMC is offering online worship services as well as virtual meals together, Bible studies and Facebook watch parties of previous services. Its food pantry remains open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with no appointments, no paperwork, and no questions asked. The pantry is located at 303 NJ Route 94.

“We want all to know that the church’s food pantry and its volunteers are busy distributing food and personal care items to all those in need,” said pantry co-coordinator Judy Miller.

Park UMC in Bloomfield held a sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday to show that even if its doors are closed, its fellowship is not. The diverse church family with worshipers from more than 20 countries including Africa; Asia and the Pacific; Central, North, and South America; the Caribbean and Europe, is still operating its Food Depot on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.-1 p.m. In the second week of April, it served 157 families, amounting to a total of 471 people. Park UMC also implemented the app Give+ to make giving for its congregation easier. To further solidify its connection, Pastor Joel Hubbard is leading bi-weekly Zoom calls on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday evenings. More information regarding Park UMC can be found at www.facebook.com/ParkUMC.Bloomfield.

New Dover UMC in Edison, which is an outreach center for UMCOR, recently donated about 50 N-95 masks to the Edison Police Department and another 80 to local fire departments, church members who work in healthcare and elsewhere. They have a women’s ministry that is making masks from home for healthcare providers. In addition to this, through a new sandwich ministry they started following the onset of the virus, they are making hundreds of sandwiches each day for the hungry in Elizabeth by donating the food they make from their homes to the St. Joe’s Social Service Center and other food pantries.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our peeps in church and our neighbors in our community that see what we do and walk with us in mission,” said Brian Richards, who is a lay delegate at the church. “I always keep a few lunch bags when we deliver to give to people on the street looking for a meal.”

More information can be found at www.newdoverumc.org/ and on Facebook.

Spring Valley UMC in New York is staying connected to its congregation with a creative way each day via Zoom. From Monday Musings, Tuesday Trivia and Wisdom Wednesday to Name that Tune Thursday, Dinner & Movie on Fridays, Saturday Scrambles and Scavenger Hunt Sundays, the congregation is staying connected. Rev. Kay Dubuisson and her congregation have also developed an Open Mic Praise & Worship Group, a Kid’s Zoom Get2together and more. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/UnitedMethodistChurchofSpringValley/.

Rev. Henriella Griffin at UMC of Linden shared: “Last week, the Spirit put in my mind to do something with and for the children. I contacted the Sunday school teacher, and we had them watch the Easter story on deep blue adventures. One of them was able to explain the story in its entirety, to God be the glory. Beginning next week, with the parents’ permission, I will have an hour a week specifically with them so they can elaborate on what they get from different stories, how these stories shape them spiritually, how they can contribute to God’s kingdom with what they learn.”

Here are some other miracles in the making happening in GNJ churches:
• Rev. Brian Joyce at Trinity UMC in Ewing led an online communion. He was joined by several TCNJ students from their homes.
• Moorestown UMC in one week collected over a thousand pieces of groceries to send to its local food bank.
• Browns Mill UMC’s brand-new food pantry served 27 families in one week, with all supplies coming from donations from people in the church.
• Cookstown UMC held online worship in its little chapel for the first time in more than 200 years.
• Wesley UMC in Trenton welcomed 29 people in a Zoom Bible study, compared to an average of 10-12 in person.
• Roebling UMC hosted an emergency blood drive, resulting in the collection of 39 units of blood.
• Emely St UMC’s food pantry in one week served 50+ families in its community.
• Medford UMC’s Easter Food Drive gleaned 1,929 food and toiletry items and 90 Acme gift cards for a total donation value of $3745 to be shared between the Christian Caring Center of Pemberton and the Turning Point UMC Food Pantry in Trenton. ShopRite of Medford also donated 30 hams, which were distributed through various connections to families in their local area. To watch the YouTube video they created for this event, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGu62zxaB1Q&feature=youtu.be.

Share your stories of the miracles happening in your congregation. Send them to the Relay in care of Heather Mistretta hmistretta@gnjumc.org.