By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
GLEASON — When people could not come to Sandhill Baptist Church in Gleason, the church went to the people. Well, sort of.
Pastor Bruce McCartney and his wife, Vicki, and other church members have been going to each member’s home in recent weeks to deliver packets of materials which the families can read together.
Sandhill is a small rural church with about 25 to 30 active members, said pastor Bruce McCartney. The church’s location definitely fits in with social distancing guidelines as it is out in the country, he noted. “There’s not a house in sight.”
When the church could no longer meet due to the state’s stay at home order, the McCartneys knew they had to come up with some creative ways to stay in touch with their members, many of whom are elderly. “Some of our people don’t even text,” said Mrs. McCartney. “We knew that we couldn’t do online services.”
Church member Allison Bowers agreed. “Most of our elderly congregation doesn’t do technology so online service wasn’t even an option for us.”
During the first week of shutdown, “we were desperate for a solution. After a few days to pray and contemplate, we started a ‘caroling group,’ Bowers said.
During the second week of shutdown, a few of the members, along with the McCartneys went “coronavirus caroling.” Three families visited the homes of every church member and had “church” in the driveway with songs, Scripture (read by children) and devotion and prayer led by the pastor, she added.
Members were thrilled to see us come to their homes because many of them were lonely, Mrs. McCartney said.
Through it all, the church has tried to make sure they followed distancing guidelines, by spreading out while singing or passing out packets. Families viewed the “service” at a safe distance, mostly from their front porches, Mrs. McCartney said.
From caroling they moved to delivering packets filled with printed materials.
“We are old-fashioned,” Mrs. McCartney laughed. The packets contain devotions written by the pastor and Bowers, who teaches the ladies class at Sandhill. In addition, Mrs. McCartney provides a page with an activity and usually something that makes the members laugh. On Easter Sunday, members even received a “Do-It-Yourself” Easter egg hunt that told the Easter story.
“Our members love the packets. We wanted to give them something to think about besides being alone,” she said.
Bowers observed that the church is reaching more than members. “We have ministered to neighbors (one VBS parent that we could never get to family day actually came to one of our yard church services), and the girlfriend of a church member who doesn’t attend our church with him.”
Delivering the packets also has provided daily contact between church members with feedback as they complete their activities throughout the week, she added.
To keep members interested, the church has tried other things as well, including parking lot services where members could attend and remain in their cars.
This past Sunday (April 26) the church initiated “Camp Faithfulness” in the church parking lot, Bowers said. “We spread out around a wooden cross and campfire. It was the first of six services to celebrate God’s faithfulness,” she noted.
McCartney noted that despite being unable to meet in the building the church is “hanging in there. The Lord is blessing us,” the pastor affirmed.
Bowers agreed. “Our church family is closer than it has ever been and everyone is more excited about church than they have been in a long time.”