SIDNEY — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine – on March 10, 2020 — began recommending that large, indoor gatherings be postponed or canceled, with advice for religious gatherings to keep at-risk members at home and increase outreach to those unable to attend service. On March 12, DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health announced a ban on gatherings exceeding 100 people, with religious gatherings still protected under the 1st Amendment and allowed to continue. Finally, on March 22, DeWine issued a “Stay at Home” order along with a message for all citizens of Ohio.
For churches in Sidney, the safety of their members became paramount. In-person services were canceled and pastors began to work to continue leading their churches as they serve the community differently than they ever have before.
Circumstances have forced churches to “adapt,” as Pastor Harry Peterson of Cornerstone Assembly of God puts it.
“I’m not sure how we are dealing with it because it affects so much. Spiritual health, fellowship, job losses, financial matters for the church family as well as the church itself. But we are ‘adapting’ during this time,” said Peterson.
Pastor James Alter of Grace Baptist Church responded differently,
“We have faith in God and His Word. The worst outcome of any pandemic is of course death. For the believer the worst possible outcome is the best outcome—we will be with Christ in heaven. Now of course we are not hoping for that outcome from this virus. We are praying that God will spare our community, nation, and the rest of the world,” said Alter.
In this time of difficulty, many churches are switching their services to online, live-streamed services that can be enjoyed from the safety of home. Although churches are allowed to remain open, most have decided to close to promote the safety of their congregations.
Peterson spoke to this, saying “we have our services online, sidneyag.org is our webpage, with current and past services. We also use Facebook Live to stream our services, and we have a Roku channel.”
Pastor Alter said, “We are holding online services at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays and 7 p.m. on Wednesdays at www.gracebaptistsidney.com, just click the live-stream button.”
Pastor Chad Wilson, of the Sidney First Church of the Nazarene, echoed this.
“We live-stream on Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. on both YouTube and Facebook under Sidney First Nazarene,” said Wilson.
Pastor Bob Akins, of St. John’s Lutheran Church, also spoke about online service. “The building is closed, but St. John’s remains open to serving the community through Facebook Live,” he said.
A church’s ministries don’t just consist of Sunday morning service, with many churches participating in community outreach, especially in this time of need for many. Peterson confirmed this idea, mentioning his church reaching out to its members and the community through things like delivering groceries and medicine to the elderly, helping buy a car for a single mom, and helping put a roof on a member’s house.
Alter also mentioned the elderly as a big part of their efforts now, particularly shopping for those who can’t risk going out. Wilson discussed reaching out to people through video chats, texts, and cards to spread encouragement. Akins echoed this, saying that St. John’s is focusing on calling shut-ins.
Easter is always a major service for churches, a great opportunity to reach the community and spread the Gospel. Unfortunately, due to most churches closing, Easter services are being switched to online form, with Alter, Peterson, Wilson and Akins all expressing hope that the pandemic will have slowed by then, allowing for face-to-face meetings to resume.
When asked if there was any message that each Pastor wanted to communicate to the community, all four had some inspiring words:
“We will get through this. And this is a good reminder of why we all need to part of a church. A local community of Christians that know you, your situation, and can help. Please do not get upset with any local church that cannot meet all the needs of the community. They have limited resources. Churches can’t do everything, but we can all do something. Sidney is blessed with many good ministries that provide assistance in ways some churches are not able to. So, find a Bible believing church. Attend, support, involve yourself, and most importantly, respond to the message of the Gospel,” said Peterson.
“We love you. The reason we exist is to share the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for everyone. We invest in children through our AWANA ministry that teaches them not only the good news of the gospel but character traits that will help them to become valuable members of our community as they mature. Our goal is to Glorify God by exalting His Word. We do that by teaching the Bible verse by verse, believing every word of it. I am proud to be a part of this community. There is no panic, no breakdown of society here. Shelby County and the surrounding areas are full of hard working, common sense people that are working together through this pandemic. My wife and I have lived here for more that twenty-three years now and I have never been more thankful and proud of our neighbors, medical professionals, first responders and community leaders. Grace Baptist Church and I am praying for all of you.,” said Alter.
“It’s important to us that Sidney First Nazarene Church is making a difference in our community. We strive to see needs and then to be the hands of Christ and reach out to meet those needs! This time of “social distancing” has not changed our mission “To Know Christ and To Make Him Known”. We are just finding new and creative ways to stay the course!” said Wilson.
“The people of St. John’s are reaching out to shut-ins and continuing in prayer, especially for healthcare providers and first responders. We are trying our best to maintain social distancing, but we want to still provide a way for people to gather spiritually. Our streaming services will continue through the summer if necessary,: said Akins.