Love One Another: Ways to Engage Your Community in the Time of Coronavirus
By Bryan Tener
"This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other." John 13:35 CEB
They’ll know we are disciples when we offer love, but what are ways we, as the church, can do that while practicing physical distancing? We are living into a new reality as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is a challenging season that we are in, and yet we are still called to grow in our love for God and to love our neighbor; and especially now, we must discover how we can build and engage the community around us. We are all in this together . . . but separately.
Discipleship begins with relationship and seeks to offer relationship with God and one another. It is through the building of relationships that the ministry of all believers is lived out, in which ministry practices like mission or evangelism flow. Discipleship simply begins with offering our presence so that others experience God’s love. In a time where we are finding ourselves isolated or disconnected physically from others, this can be a time where we discern and discover new ways of connecting with others, creative ways of reaching out and engaging with our neighbors in ways that build meaningful relationships and provide a sense of connectedness beyond what we’ve experienced before, a connectedness that lets us know that we are never alone and that God is with us, all of us. It is our calling to live that out as we offer God’s love and build relationships with those around us.
As we continue to live into this new reality, our routines, our lives, our communities are being reshaped; and at the same time, the ways our church connects with our community is also being reshaped. The church, as a people, is being distributed to the places we live, literally, to our homes and to our neighborhoods. During this time, people can experience increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. People long for connection and for community; yet we know that in the call as disciples to do no harm and to love our neighbor, the loving thing to do is not gather physically. But there are still ways to connect and to offer presence and to create community that builds relationships. As followers of Jesus and as the ministry of all believers, the distributed church can make a powerful impact as we identify creative yet simple ways of connecting and engaging with our neighbors.
One example of what this can look like comes from the work of John Briggs from Kairos Partnerships and a resource on equipping and resourcing pastors during COVID-19. Invite your church members, those who are participating in your online worship service, and those who are engaging in your church community to become neighborhood missionaries and offer presence, service or support, or a new connection in their neighborhood. They begin by writing a letter with some basic information that includes an invitation to connect. Rev. Luke Edwards, the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference, took the idea from the resource and tried it in his neighborhood. Here is the letter that he wrote:
Hi Neighbors on ______ Rd.,
We are Luke and Ginna Edwards and our daughter ________ at ______ Rd.
There is a great deal of uncertainty due to COVID-19. As we have been directed by national, state, and local officials, many of us will be staying at home for a while.
We wanted you to have our number and email address.
Even though we are now practicing social distancing, we’re here to help if you need it:
- If you run out of supplies
- If you need someone to pick up groceries and drop them off at your door
- If you are lonely and need someone to talk to on the phone
- If you are anxious and desire someone to pray for you (Luke is a United Methodist minister.)
- If you would like ________ to decorate your sidewalk with chalk
If you’d be willing to help other neighbors that have needs, just let us know. Feel free to call, text, or email.
We’re glad you are our neighbors!
Luke, Ginna, and ________
828-263-____ [email protected]
He then placed the letter on the doormat or porch (to place a letter in a mailbox is illegal, so don’t do that) and waited for a response. Here’s what Luke said of what came next:
“We put them out around lunch time, and all afternoon we were getting calls and texts from our neighbors telling us how much they appreciated hearing from us. One woman mentioned that it led her to check on her elderly next-door neighbor. Everyone was all set with groceries, but several people asked for prayer, including one neighbor whose father had just been diagnosed with cancer. We would have never known that she was going through that if we hadn't reached out.”
Personal connections were made, presence was offered, and support and encouragement were given. In a time such as this, the barriers of physical isolation need not keep us from connecting. It can free us to act in creative ways that show one another love. This kind of act can unite a neighborhood and create and deepen a culture of solidarity and support that extends itself beyond this pandemic.
As a church leader, what steps would you need to take to help your members envision reaching out in this way? How might this continue to cultivate and build relationships connecting the neighborhood to the distributed local church? Your neighborhoods will know we are Christians by our love and by how we offer love to one another. This becomes one more way we can do that during this pandemic.
“Equipping and Resourcing Pastors in the Reality of COVID-19, Kairos Partnerships, https://www.kairospartnerships.org/blog/2020/3/17/equipping-and-resourcing-pastors-in-the-reality-of-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR2gEeZ2nU-QZu3ta0bZFf405jxgFV0AgZOY_fe83X5HLqvXBegXrRiwINY