Keeping the faith during a global pandemic

Matthew Lane • Apr 10, 2020 at 1:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Easter is almost upon us. The holiest of days in the Christian faith, when millions of believers from around the world gather to sing praise and offer worship on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

And for hundreds of years this has typically taken place in church, with pews filled to the ends with loyal parishioners, folks who attend church twice a year, and everyone in between. It’s a day of celebration, a day of rejoicing and a day of love.

Though the message of Easter remains the same this year, how that message reaches the faithful has been changed. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments across the country have placed restrictions on public gatherings.

Obviously, that includes church services. A few churches, like one in Kentucky, are defying government mandates and are planning to hold an Easter service. The vast majority, however, are sticking with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations during this time of social distancing.

“We’re going to have an online service at 10 a.m. We’ve prerecorded it so we could edit things in, use music from past Easters along with some newly recorded music,” said Marvin Cameron, pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Kingsport. “It was a bright, sunny day when my sermon was prerecorded, so with a rainy forecast for Sunday, we hope it’ll bring some sunshine into people’s lives.”

Cameron’s sermon is entitled “Peace Be With You,” a reference to the first words Jesus said to his disciples on Easter Sunday night and again a week later when he spoke to Thomas.

“I think hearing those words on Resurrection Sunday is very important to me right now and all of us as we struggle with this pandemic,” Cameron said.

Humans are social creatures by nature. Our health and well-being count on interactions with friends, family and coworkers. But in a world where we’re told to stay home and keep our distance, this new reality is making it challenging to maintain our social ties.

Churches have had to get creative to stay connected with their congregations. Some have held drive-thru services or parking lot sermons. Many churches have long posted services online, others have livestreamed Sunday preaching, but these offerings were probably viewed by a minority of members.

Not anymore. Today, if you want to hear from your preacher, you’re likely doing so online.

“Sure it bothers me (that we can’t meet) because Easter is a time when more people come to church than any other time of the year,” Cameron said. “But Easter isn’t canceled. It’s just going to be different this year, and I believe the hope of the resurrection is never more important than a time when thousands of Americans are dying because of an unknown virus. I don’t think Easter could come at a better time than right now.”

In addition to the traditional Easter service, First Baptist Church was also planning to hold a number of Holy Week events, including one on Palm Sunday, an Easter egg hunt on Church Circle, and a family communion. At one point, the church even thought about teaming up with the other churches on Church Circle and holding a drive-thru event in the Dobyns-Bennett parking lot.

Due to Gov. Bill Lee’s order, that idea was scrapped. In response, First Baptist Church went online for Holy Week. Cameron said the church held a brief Bible study on Wednesday, a Maundy Thursday communion and will be broadcasting its Easter sermon online.

It’ll be the fourth Sunday Cameron has livestreamed his sermons. It’s been a learning experience and Cameron said he has much respect for the people who are on camera every day. At this point, he’s looking forward to seeing people in the sanctuary again.

“I think churches have faced challenging times before,” Cameron said of the pandemic. “But I’m seeing a renewal of spiritual matters, seeing people reconnect to God in ways that I think we realize we’re not independent. And we have to be dependent on a higher power even though I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.

“I think our people are trying to do their best to minimize the impact of this so we can get back to normal as soon as we can and not make anybody else sick.” 

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