Impact of COVID-19 and vaccinations on Communities of Faith
Spirit knits body together while apart
As things open up and people regather, Eric Peterson, pastor of Colbert Presbyterian Church which he founded in 1997, said there was no long-term correction to his ecclesiology from COVID.
"The ideal way the Body of Christ manifests in its gathered form is an essential aspect of how the church functions, but the Spirit compensated by knitting the body together while we were apart," he said.
Eric said the church navigated the changes by adapting to the online livestream format for worship.
They had youth, children, adult Bible studies, men's and women's mission projects and mission trips.
While many programs were curtailed or cancelled, they did some things they did not do before.
"The challenge was how to maintain connection to one another," Eric said. "I felt the pandemic challenged our ecclesiology, the nature and purpose of the church with its emphasis on the embodied church being together in person.
"Part way through the pandemic we asked if we were any less the church than we were in closer proximity," he said. "I don't think so, because the pandemic required a more robust pneumatology—providing a way for the Holy Spirit to hold the body together across differences and distances.
For Eric, what was important was to reach out to vulnerable people in the community.
They administered grant-based food projects, purchasing bulk food to give to families school counselors identified as being food insecure.
While the school district handed out lunches after school, the church did it on weekends as a temporary stop-gap to take care of people with no financial margin.
To strengthen the benevolence fund, Eric said that "members turned over their stimulus checks and helped people who were not in the congregation come out unscathed by helping pay rent they could not cover."
The church also gave some funds to other organizations, like Big Table and Family Promise.
In the fall, members hope to open the preschool co-op and keep the youth ministry going. The children's ministry was mothballed because they couldn't do it safely, he said.
They restarted back in-person worship on Easter, welcoming people to an outdoor worship with masks. As the curve has since flattened, those who are fully vaccinated have been able to gather without masks.
"We plan to livestream our service indefinitely," Eric said.
The church is slowly gathering people back together.
The sewing group is reconvening.
The MOPS group will reconvene in June.
AA, Bible studies and children's play dates are resuming.
His estimate was that 90 percent of the congregation were fully vaccinated compared to 50 to 60 percent in the community. He's not aware of anti-vaxxers in the congregation, but knows there are some in the community.
"We consulted with medical professionals as we developed protocols and members had questions," said Eric, who earned a bachelors in theology at Whitworth, a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a doctorate of ministry from Portland Seminary at George Fox University.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2021