Many L.A. ministries closed their church buildings in the middle of 2020 and just recently, either have opened, or plan to resume worship in the edifice. Bethel AME Church in South Los Angeles is among those holding in person service in the near future.
Fellowshipping in person, like has been done for centuries, holds lots of appeal. Yet, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is still here, the Rev. Dr. Kelvin T. Calloway, Sr., aims to implement a range of measures to ensure the health and safety of the parishioners when the service is held at Bethel on Sunday, August 1.
In an interview with the Sentinel, Calloway explained that the impact of the virus persuaded him and Bethel’s leaders to reimagine how worship would be conducted. “After coming to grips with the severity of the COVID- 19 pandemic and the devastation it had on colleagues and congregations, particularly in the Midwest and the South, we realized that from this point forward the church would no longer be able to do church as we had done it before COVID,” he said.
Utilizing all of the available data from local health departments and the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, Calloway and the leaders developed a reopening plan. Procedures outlining designated entry and exit doors, social distancing, face coverings, hand hygiene, and temperature checking were covered along with steps to sanitize common areas and the pulpit, podiums, microphones and musical instruments.
“We have implemented all of the protocols recommended by the Los Angeles County Health Officer and have self-attested to them via the Health Officer’s website. Our certificate of certification is on file with the Health Officer and copies are posted throughout the church,” explained the pastor, who added that congregants will be asked to sign attendance waivers for contact tracing in case an affected individual traces the contracting of the virus to their worship service.
Citing another modification, Calloway said, “The order of service will be adjusted to facilitate a ‘timely’ worship experience of 60 to 75 minutes as per the recommendation of the medical and science professionals. Limiting the time of physical gatherings assist in restricting the spread of the virus.”
Surprisingly, Calloway found some good result of the virus that he referred to as “a blessing in disguise for the church.” That blessing was to “reconsider the way we do ministry in the 21st Century and beyond,” which underscores the value of social media.
Every ministry, regardless of size, is capable of “serving this present age,” by using social media, insisted the pastor. “Churches that feel their social media ministries are only for the pandemic and discontinue them once they reopened have missed the message God has given us.
“Zoom, Facebook Live, Website Streaming, Tik Tok, Skype, Messenger, Goggle Duo, and Richontech TV are the ‘new normal.’ This is where this generation is and if we want our ministries to be relevant to them, we must be in the space where they are,” stressed Calloway.
As ministries plan for the future, he recommended that leaders consult with the talented individuals in their congregations, including young people, who can provide tremendous assistance in the area of social media.
“All of us have had to and still are navigating our way through the social media space. What has sometime been a daunting for us is not a challenge at all for them. Be vulnerable and allow those whom God has gifted in our midst to utilize those gifts for the kingdom of God,” he advised.
In addition, Calloway reminded pastors and church officers to have patience with the membership because the pandemic has taken a “mental, emotional, and spiritual toll” on many people.
“Everybody who returns to worship won’t be ready to give God praise. Some have experienced the loss of loved ones, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Some have experienced deep hurt, pain, anxiety, and depression,” said Calloway.
“So, let us not pretend that our faith has immunized us from these emotions and act as though everything is normal. This pandemic has not been a prolonged vacation and everything is not normal. Let us give them hope that with God’s grace and mercy, we will find a new normal.”
Bethel AME Church is located at 7900 S. Western Avenue is South Los Angeles.