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Churches adapt to stay connected during pandemic

Across Selma, Dallas County, Alabama and the rest of the U.S., churches have had to cancel worship services in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Though canceling traditional services has presented challenges for churches across Selma, congregations are persisting through the pandemic by conducting worship services online, and staying within close contact with one another to provide prayer and encouragement.
It’s that close contact among churchgoers that has made being away from church difficult for so many.
“In scripture, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, there is a constant pattern of the people of God being referred to as The Body of Christ, The Family of God, The Building of God… There are all these analogies toward this idea that, when you come to Christ you are fashioned into this group of people…this family,” said Cory Horton, Pastor at Elkdale Baptist Church, a large church just off of Highland Avenue, near Zaxby’s. “To put that in a practical sense, I need the church because I want to be around people that are trying to live a life that pleases God and I need all the help I can get. I need encouragement from them, I need support, I need prayer and I want people I can trust.”
“I think that, as people, it’s human nature for us to connect with one another and socialize. It’s my personal belief that that’s the way the Lord made us.” John Grayson, Pastor of Gospel Tabernacle Church, a church fairly close to Elkdale, though smaller. “Out of the 7.7 billion people in the world, I think we are all connected in some way in that we were made to interact with each other. I think that’s something inside of us that God put in us.”
It’s through that interaction that Grayson says his church members connect with one another.
“I believe people draw strength from one another, especially during worship service,” said Grayson. “They’re able to share their experiences and draw strength from one another by encouraging each other and sharing their testimonies.”
Though their congregations are unable to meet for the moment, both are embracing the circumstances and find other ways to connect their congregations and others.
At Elkdale, worship services are still being conducted online via Facebook Live and YouTube, Sunday School lessons for both adults and children and the church’s youth group meets via Zoom each Wednesday at 9 p.m.
Horton said technology, though it has its challenges, makes staying connected much easier.
“If all this had happened 100 years ago, I’d write all my congregates letters and deliver them on horseback and that’d be all they got,” said Horton. “But in this day and age, I can jump on Facebook and 90 percent of our congregation can see whatever I say within five minutes.”
At Gospel Tabernacle, services have been conducted similarly – Grayson said worship services, Bible studies and small groups are being conducted online and, each night, Grayson takes to Facebook Live to pray for his congregation and the rest of the world during the pandemic.
Grayson said around 100 people tune in for his evening prayer meetings each night.
“People seem to be praying more than ever before,” he said. “They seem much more appreciative of one another and their blessings. They’re so thankful for food, their jobs and their health.”
Among the increased sense of thankfulness, Grayson said families among his congregation are spending much more time together and getting closer to one another, himself included.
“People are talking to one another more and communicating,’ he said. “It’s a blessing that we know have all this time to spend with one another and to rest and recuperate.”
Likewise, Horton has seen members of his church embrace the amount of time spent at home and grow closer to one another as well.
“I’ve seen lots of families grow closer to one another because they’re no longer to chase every hobby under the sun,” he said. “Our members are checking on one another in a deeper, more thoughtful way. We’re are wrestling with the idea that we control very little right now.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought upon regularly scheduled churchgoing, Horton said Americans are blessed to live in a place where they’re able to freely worship at all.
“If you’re a Christian in North Korea right now, this pandemic is nothing,” he said. “If you’re a Christian in Northern Iraq or Iran or in parts of Communist China where they’re cracking down on the assembly of Christians, this is nothing compared to that.”