‘Blessings in Disguise’: Evangelism Efforts Thrive Through Pandemic
Story by V. Michelle Bernard and Jenevieve Lettsome
Many churches across the Columbia Union Conference are still closed for in-person worship due to the coronavirus pandemic, including all churches in the Allegheny East and West conferences. Churches in the New Jersey Conference have experienced 38 deaths as a result of COVID-19. Eighty percent of these churches are now open at 25 percent capacity, reported President Dave Weigley at the September 17 Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee meeting.
Fifty-nine percent of churches in the Chesapeake Conference, 63 percent of Potomac congregations and approximately 70 percent of Ohio churches are also meeting in person. All churches in the Mountain View Conference are again meeting in person. Many of these congregations are offering in-person and online options.
“There have been some blessings in disguise during the coronavirus pandemic,” shared Frank Bondurant, vice president for Ministries Development. In response to the pandemic, recent wildfires, hurricanes and more, Bondurant noted an increased public interest in spirituality, revival and reformation among members and how the church is innovatively doing evangelism.
Bondurant noted the increased use of technology in evangelism efforts, including an upcoming online series that will allow participating churches to interact easier with attendees. He noted that all of the union’s eight conferences are emphasizing in-person and/or online evangelism this fall.
Upcoming Evangelistic Efforts
Allegheny East Conference: Fifteen churches participating in Forecasting Hope; thirteen pastors hosting their own meetings
Allegheny West: Hispanic online meetings
Chesapeake: Forecasting Hope
Mountain View: Mark Finley online meetings
New Jersey: Every church is participating in digital evangelism efforts
Ohio: Forecasting Hope; Hispanic online meetings
Pennsylvania: One hundred churches are participating in either online or in-person meetings.
Potomac: Evangelistic meetings focusing on Jesus from the book of Revelation; an online meeting at the Olney (Md.) church
Many churches continue to expand their online worship, connection and evangelism efforts. Rubén Ramos, vice president for Multilingual Ministries, shared that so far this year more than 5,000 Spanish-speaking members have been dedicated to praying for and sharing their faith with others.
“Circumstances can become the instrument of Satan … with so many obstacles and difficulties that go beyond our human possibilities,” says Ramos. “But if we limit God’s power in our budgets, in our numbers, in our calculations, we are taking the mighty power of God and preventing [awareness of the] mighty acts of the Holy Spirit transforming lives.”
Despite the many continuing closures through the end of the quarter in July, God has been blessing the union, says Emmanuel Asiedu, treasurer. Union leadership expected at least a 50 percent drop in tithe during the pandemic. However, Asiedu reported only a 2.68 percent decrease in July’s numbers, improved from the 4.5 percent decrease reported in June.
Some conferences actually increased their contributions from June to July, bringing the union’s June total tithe to just under $72 million and the July total to just under $74 million.
Changing the Educational Landscape
The union’s strong financial footing has helped support schools in need of extra assistance due to lowered enrollment numbers. Many schools are facing decreased enrollment numbers and have had to cover extra costs associated with reopening during a pandemic (e.g., PPE, safety modifications, etc.). As a result, leaders have had to lay off nine educators and cut hours for some part-time employees. Many schools schools, however, have experienced increased enrollment, several because of their smaller class sizes and in-person learning options.
The six elementary schools in the Allegheny East Conference are working together to provide an online learning option. “Parents are liking the changes they’re making,” says Donovan Ross, vice president for Education.
Washington Adventist University, which is offering distance learning this semester, is hoping to open their campus for in-person learning in January. President Weymouth Spence announced that 700 students had applied for the current semester, but many others are waiting until classes resume in person.
Though not offering on-campus instruction, Spence said faculty, staff and students are adjusting to the new way of learning and are also on the forefront of engaging in social justice efforts. “We’re going to model Jesus’ love,” he told the committee.
Despite all the challenges, “God has blessed the Columbia Union with outstanding, hardworking, dedicated educators who have exceeded all our expectations and continue to provide quality education to all our students,” says Ross. “They are our essential workers who are spending longer hours to prepare and deliver quality instruction to ensure that student can learn in the various environments. They deliver instruction face-to-face, virtually and using a hybrid model. Our students, families and other stakeholders are well served by this cadre of Christian educational professionals.”
Facilities and staff at Adventist HealthCare and Kettering Adventist HealthCare continue to meet the needs of their communities serving patients with and without COVID-19.
Aiming to continue their 2020 theme of encouraging members to get healthier, and commemorating 125 years of publishing the union’s news publication, the Communication Department reported that more than 200 people have signed up for the Virtual Visitor 5K/1 Mile Run/Walk that is taking place next week. (Register here.) Proceeds of the charity event will be donated to Adventist Community Services centers around the union.