Local Faith Leaders Prove Even When the World Stops, Faith Continues

By Jasmine Butler – Pastors across the city of Jacksonville have adjusted their normal Sunday morning services and Wednesday night bible studies to best fit the state of the world during the global pandemic, the coronavirus.

Although Governor Ron Desantis relaxed the rules of churches and faith-based communities in his stay-at-home order, these pastors couldn’t take a chance at putting their members and themselves at risk. Fortunately, in a world of flexible and advancing technology, continuing services and meetings are the least of their worries.

Gary L. Hall Sr., Bishop and pastor of the West Jacksonville Church of God in Christ and Cathedral of Faith Church of God in Christ, resides in the belief that, “social distancing doesn’t mean spiritual isolation.” In this, he encourages prayer, worship, and staying connected to your loved ones. He agrees that the transition has been interesting, but he also realizes that there is more than one way to get a job done.

“Although we are definitely remaining hopeful, this challenges us to be creative, to be solution oriented, and to find innovative ways to do things. For example, there is more than one way to achieve a goal. Five plus four is nine. But, six plus three is also nine. We’ve been forced to discover alternative ways to achieve these goals while remaining content during this time.”

Terrance Brisbane, pastor of Higher Grounds Church of God in Christ, located on the Northside of Jacksonville, FL, has also taken advantage of the many social media and internet resources to continue services.

“We use a variety of different virtual platforms. This includes our Youtube Channel, Facebook Live, a few zoom meetings, and just using the many tools that are available to us.”

Elijah Lott and Greg Evans preparing to record for the youth livestream, Cyber Sanctuary.

Church, for many, serves as a support group and even a second home. The pandemic has affected the direct line of communication between members, pastors, and leadership in the church. Brisbane tells about how his church is making efforts to ensure that the members, senior members especially, have access to him and to the online streaming to stay connected.

“At first, it was a little difficult being that we have a lot of senior members. So, we do something a bit different with our seniors because they are accustomed to having that face-to-face contact. We made sure that they had the right tools to connect with us online. We went as far as giving out laptops and tablets. We also sent people out to their homes to set up Facebook and Youtube on their TVs. Since then, the communication has definitely been better,” Brisbane explained.

Brisbane expresses gratitude and excitement about the success of virtual services within the last few weeks.

“I am not concerned at all about the future of our church. In reality, we never closed. We are just changing up the ways that we are doing it. We get calls on the regular from our community and remain helpful to those that need it through our Benevolence Department here at Higher Grounds. If anything, we have actually gained a few members that say once this passes, they will be joining our congregation,” he said.

Along with the normal services, Gary L. Hall Sr. and the leadership partners within his church have also implemented virtual activities for their youth. It allows the youth to get involved and learn new things even if they aren’t at church physically.

The virtual network, “Cyber Sanctuary”, includes cooking tutorials, crafts, dance, song, Michelle Obama’s storytime read-along, and livestreams for the youth to discuss the message delivered by their pastor the week before.

Derrick Whigham-Gibson, Elder and Youth pastor at Cathedral of Faith Church of God in Christ, is excited about the youth network that they have started since the pandemic. He enjoys working alongside the small group of youth members and leaders who have made themselves available to produce content for their peers in such a trying time.

“This process has been so exciting and rewarding. I am under the belief that everyone has an influence on someone. And because Cyber Sanctuary covers such a vast age group, it is so encouraging to see the number of people that are being reached. We have things for little children and even for our young adults that are in college. Each week is better and I know that it will be good because our small group is willing to help and doesn’t mind working for the greater good.”

Even as social distancing is the “new normal”; Technology, partnership, and a little extra work in the community has made church possible and easily accessible. Pastors are working hard to ensure that the connectivity and faith lives on until they meet again.

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