Kent, Sussex churches lead an online movement
Church services may have never been more accessible than now. With the coronavirus pandemic leading churches to close their doors, Easter services will be livestreamed into living rooms across the state Sunday.
While people may be missing images of white lilies on the altar or well-dressed children squirming in wooden pews, the decision to worship online may be perfect for those already a part of those churches (especially if it involves staying in pajamas).
Easter Sunday Celebration
Sunday, April 12 at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m.
However, one group of United Methodist churches in Kent and Sussex counties is trying to reach people who are new to the faith or haven’t attended in a while. With research showing Easter as the most attended church service and more people seeking a spiritual connection in a time of uncertainty, this may be the time to do it.
The Rev. Kyung-Hee Sa oversees 97 churches as superintendent of the United Methodist Church Dover district. She is one of four superintendents under Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. With so many churches going online, she said it may seem like the churches are in competition for viewers.
That’s one reason more than a dozen churches in the Dover district are hosting a combined virtual service Sunday, April 12.
“The beauty and power of this combined Easter celebration is you can see the great tapestry in faith as five or six churches [come together],” Sa said. “We are here for you.”
The theme is “Getting through this Together,” an encouragement to lean on faith while many face hardship. It will include testimonies, worship songs and sermons. Pastors at churches across the state have recorded and contributed different parts.
This sense of unity may be more important than ever as the national United Methodist Church grapples with allowing same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy, Sa said.
“The United Methodist Church has been wrestling with the homosexuality issue with a potential split,” she said. “At Easter, we come as connected churches, especially as a district.”
Dover Exchange Hub
The Easter service is part of a greater project called the Dover Exchange Hub, an online ministry in the works since November.
Led by coaches Paul Nixon and Paul Moon from the consulting group Epicenter, pastors in the Dover district have been learning to use search engine optimization and social media to better reach young people. Sa said they are focusing on two groups: those who stopped going to church and those who are not affiliated.
The Rev. Larry Jameson, pastor of three churches in Harrington and member of the Dover Exchange Hub team, said it was important to approach ministry differently.
In the United Methodist Church as a whole, “our membership has been dwindling for decades,” he said. “To reach out to the younger generation, we have to think outside the box.”
While part of the website’s mission is to draw more people to church, it’s largely focused on serving the community. The churches hope to partner with local organizations to meet underserved needs, Jameson said.
“We have a faith-based point of view, but we also have a love for the community and we want to do something useful,” he said. “As we connect with people and establish relationships of integrity and cultivate trust over a long period of time, I think God is going to bless that.”
By looking at common searches on Google and using other strategies, churches will identify community needs and pool their resources to fill them. Sa said this effort may be coming just in time.
“I’m so excited about this vision especially when we are hit so hard by this pandemic,” she said. “I’m sure there are lots of needs in the communities.”
The website will be completed by the end of the year, found at https://dover.exchangehub.org. The Easter service will likely be the first of many online and creative ministries.
“I think we’re going to keep doing things that are innovative and different,” Jameson said.