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Grace and creativity

During the era of COVID-19 it can be difficult to acclimate to social distancing and self-isolation, especially when it means the cancellation of church services.

With the majority of churches in the area electing to close until further notice, what serves as a form of love and solace to so many, now seems out of reach.

In an effort to stay connected with members and still provide service during these uncertain times, some churches are electing to perform Sunday services via live streaming.

One such church that exemplifies this technique is Farmville United Methodist Church (UMC).

Farmville UMC, located at 212 High St., is an awesome sight to behold. The towering structure sports stunning stained-glass windows that fill the room with colorful light.

Although a laptop or phone tablet doesn’t quite have the same visual effect, churchgoers have been elated to still be able to worship through the digital interface.

Lead Pastor Rev. Michael Kendall said that documents for the congregation date all the way back to 1814. Despite the church’s extensive age, Kendall said, Farmville UMC aims to move, grow and adapt with the times, including providing online services amidst the outbreak.

“The God we worship is a God of grace and creativity,” Kendall said, reflecting on the creativity that the church has undergone to continue to connect with members.

He added that Farmville UMC normally has two Sunday morning services and one evening “BE!” service held at the Wesley Foundation in a more informal, living-room setting. The church also has a Potluck and Praise group that meets Wednesdays to sing and worship, along with several smaller groups that populate the building throughout the week.

The congregation’s last Sunday together in the church was March 8. Kendall said church staff had conversations as news rolled in about the virus, and made official decisions the following Friday, prompted by state-level encouragement, to suspend worship as a gathered activity until at least March 29.

Kendall said the live streaming serves to keep prayer, love and worship in the lives of others, even without being able to physically attend services.

The reception of the new online worship service has been extraordinarily positive. According to Kendall, Farmville UMC’s most recent Sunday morning and evening service live streams each garnered approximately 400 views.

He added church members and staff are still regularly calling up those who are not always able to attend physical service on an average Sunday due to illness or mobility issues in order to continue supporting those individuals and providing prayer and human connection in what is surely a lonely time for many.

Sunday, March 22, Joshua Blakely streamed the church’s 4:30 p.m. service on the “BE!” Facebook page via a Facebook Live video. The 12-minute video was a bite-sized, informal service.

“Tonight we’re going to be here together, electronically, so that we can love our neighbors by staying away from one another,” Blakely joked at the beginning of the stream.

In the midst of virus concerns, Blakely used his time on screen to discuss Psalm 23 and compare it to the tune “As” by Stevie Wonder, stating that both the Psalm and Wonder’s hit serve to remind that nothing will stop Jesus from loving anyone, not even a pandemic.

Earlier in the day, Brandy Rea Hogan, Farmville UMC’s children’s ministry director, led a virtual children’s ceremony and activity on the Farmville UMC Facebook page. Hogan read to the children from John 9:7 and instructed them on how to make mud pies.

Kendall added that those wondering what they can do to help during this time of crisis can log on to FarmvilleCares.org. The website connects local nonprofits and churches with volunteers, and provides important information and resources to the public during the coronavirus pandemic.