WHITE PINE — In March of 2020 when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic struck, Nina Baptist Church in White Pine did what most churches across the state and nation did — they canceled live services and found alternatives.
And, for Nina Baptist, that was a wise and safe decision.
Despite the precautions, Nina was still hit hard by COVID with three members eventually dying of COVID and between 30-40 other members who contracted the disease, according to pastor Jimmy Norris.
He noted that for many weeks the church held outdoor services with him preaching from the back of his pickup truck.
“When we started back (inside the church) we didn’t do Sunday or Wednesday nights for a while,” he said.
The church still has not returned to Sunday night services, but did restart Wednesday evening activities, including prayer meeting, but attendance was less than half of what it was before COVID, Norris recalled.
Most of those who were not coming were senior adults and their decision to not attend was not all COVID-related.
“Many of our senior adults are not able to drive after dark,” the pastor noted.
Norris had a conversation with William Burton of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff and shared the problem about the Wednesday night service.
Burton observed that some churches have gone to a noon prayer meeting.
After discussing it with church leaders, Nina Baptist made the decision to begin a noon prayer meeting and Bible study on Wednesday in January of this year.
“It took off,” Norris said.
The church is averaging about 25 people weekly for the noon meeting, he said.
An added bonus is that members who had stopped attending Wednesday evening services have begun to return, Norris said. He estimated that the church is now averaging between 55-60 people in the two Wednesday services which outpaces the pre-COVID Wednesday attendance by a large number.
The noon service has been good not only for the senior adults but for the entire church, Norris affirmed. “This has been a great blessing for our senior adults because they can once again attend prayer meeting and Bible study and have fellowship with each other,” the pastor added.
He noted that the noon lunch, which is provided through the church budget, and prayer meeting was the first time that some members came back to any service.
Debra Fraley, who has taught Sunday School for about 30 years, attends the mid-week meeting.
It is a “relaxed setting” for food, fellowship and prayer and Bible study,” she noted.
Fraley said she also likes the interactive Bible study “because we can have input,” unlike preaching services where “you sit quietly” in the pew.
The noon meeting also “builds relationships,” she added.
Norris said the noon event “has ignited our people to come to Bible study and fellowship,” he affirmed.
“We thank the good Lord. This has worked for us,” Norris said. “We have seen results.” B&R