COVID-19, Faith

Attending to spiritual needs during the pandemic

I haven’t been to church since the first of March. That Sunday, Hoosiers were just starting to get sick from the coronavirus. We sent messages to all of our members discouraging them from hugging and even shaking hands. We didn’t pass the communion plates but rather asked people to come to the front to take the emblems, which elders handed them while wearing disposable gloves.

West Park Christian Church

The following week the state shut down, and so did we.

You may recall that we hired a pastor early in 2019 but by autumn it was clear we weren’t a mutual fit and he moved on. The elders, including me, had been sharing preaching duties with several guest preachers. Just before we shut down one of those guest preachers expressed interest in preaching for us every week until we found our new permanent pastor. We took him up on it.

We tried to offer worship and connection for our members. Our interim preacher recorded his weekly sermons on video and sent them to me for posting on Facebook. They went live every Sunday morning at 9 am. It wasn’t the same as worshiping in person, but many of our members appreciated the effort very much. We also began to have Zoom gatherings for our members, but they were poorly attended. Many of our members couldn’t make the technology work.

The city and state began to reopen in May. Curiously, they allowed churches to congregate well before they allowed any other large gatherings. We elders were not of one mind about how to proceed. A couple elders wanted to resume Sunday services right away so we could be in Christian community and take care of each other’s spiritual needs. I was staunch: reopening was irresponsible. To resume in-person services could result in our members becoming sick — and, given that many of our members are in high-risk categories, possibly even dying. The elders favoring reopening reasoned that our members should decide to opt in or out based on their own conscience and willingness to tolerate risk. There were good and valid points on both sides, but these difficult discussions were hard on the eldership.

We stayed closed for several weeks, reopening the first Sunday in July. But I and one other elder have not attended. We remain unwilling to place our families at risk.

Additionally, serious family stress has taken my attention almost fully away from West Park Christian Church. Except for the elders’ meetings over Zoom every couple weeks, I have neither time nor energy for the eldership.

Being an elder is not meant to be primarily an administrative role. Elders are meant to be involved with the congregation as shepherds. That was challenging enough for me before the pandemic because I live 30 minutes away from West Park, which is really a neighborhood church. It is impossible now.

I don’t know why it’s not been clear to me before, but it’s clear to me now: West Park’s elders really need to live in or near the neighborhood. Maybe the situation at West Park has evolved to this and I’m just now catching on. I don’t live in the neighborhood. I don’t believe I’m called to live in the neighborhood. I don’t want to live in the neighborhood.

Since lockdown Margaret and I have been watching the online services of North Point Church in Georgia together every Sunday morning. We both love the teaching of their pastor, Andy Stanley. He brings such a fresh perspective, always well reasoned from the Bible. We’ve benefited greatly from his sermons during these months.

But we both know we want to be in community with Christians again. We miss it greatly. But it’s not clear to us that we will return to West Park. We feel like our lives are leading us in a new direction, yet to be determined.

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Faith

New pastor

West Park Christian Church

Our church’s longtime pastor retired, and we found a new pastor. The ease with which we found this fellow was not a given. We were quite worried that it would take months or years. In our fellowship of churches, the independent Christian Churches, there is no central governing body that issues new pastors, as the Methodists do. When a Christian Church wants a new pastor, they have to advertise the job just like a company does. Frankly, there isn’t much interest in little urban churches like this one. You’re not going to build a big career here. You have to want to do this difficult service.

But we all know that this neighborhood needs this measly one-horse church if only to have someplace where people can come without crawling to the many vices easily found here.

While our new pastor didn’t have a heart for the urban mission when he first visited us, that flame lit while he got to know us. Bit by bit he’s bringing a more modern church experience to us. Frankly, it doesn’t work for me. But I’m not who we’re trying to attract. Millennials and Gen Zers make up more than half of our neighborhood and they aren’t coming to church. Our old-fashioned ways repelled them when they did visit.

What isn’t changing is how accepting we are. People come to West Park from any number of backgrounds and challenging life situations. We seldom know what to do that will materially help them. We’ve learned to just love them and let God sort their lives out later. Sometimes our acceptance and how we interpret Scripture create a bit of a tangle for us, but we’ve chosen to bias toward acceptance. It creates a space where people feel safe, and where they feel they can let their guard down and be who they are. That’s when the Holy Spirit can get in.

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Windows at West Park

Church windows
Pentax ME, 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL
Eastman Double-X 5222
2018

In the little church I attend on the Near Westside of Indianapolis, the sanctuary windows are all stained glass and feature the names of original members. Their descendants attended until the last of them died about a decade ago. Today, these names are historic curiosities to the current members.

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Film Photography

single frame: Church windows

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Film Photography

Portraits in a church basement

It’s funny how much I had to push up my courage to ask these people if I could take their portraits. I go to church with them; we know each other pretty well!

I shoot mostly old buildings and old cars because I like them. I like people, too, but they have feelings about being photographed that my usual subjects don’t. But my fellow congregants sure do enjoy it when I bring them prints of the portraits I make. And when I make their portraits I can speak with them as people far easier than I can otherwise.

So for our recent pitch-in lunch, I mounted a 50/1.4 onto my Pentax ME and loaded a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800. I set the lens to f/2, which I figured would give me the depth of field I wanted, and used the camera like a point-and-shoot.

This is Debra, a woman of few words but of vast faith. When I need prayer, I ask Debra first.

Debra

Meet Margaret. This is not my wife Margaret but one of the other two Margarets in our congregation. Our church is a Margaret-rich environment. This Margaret is an elder and has sung in our praise team (and in the choir that preceded it) since 1962.

Margaret

Here’s Dawn, going to town carving a ham. We all come to church on our best behavior but I bet Dawn is quite ornery outside the church!

Dawn

We had a guest preacher this Sunday, Nick, pictured here with his daughter whose name I didn’t catch.

Nick and daughter

Dave is a longtime member who at some point moved out to the suburbs. He drives in every Sunday.

Dave

Jenny and I had a moment of connection recently when she saw on Facebook that I’d been to the Anthrax concert. She was surprised that I even knew who Anthrax was. I project a pretty buttoned-down image.

Jenny

We see Amber only sometimes. She’s a young adult making her way. Amber could well be the happiest person I’ve ever met. Every time I see her, anyway, she seems to be on the verge of rapturous joy.

Amber

Amber’s mother Rhonda is on the right, with her man Steve. They’re a great couple and seem to be good for each other.

Steve and Rhonda

I think these compositions are all right and I did get the depth of field I was looking for at f/2. I wish the colors were fuller, but I guess this is what you get shooting ISO 800 film. I had the processor make prints of these so I could give them out, and the prints have better color and less grain. It seems paradoxical, really — the lab made the prints from these scans.

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Snow-covered steps

Snow-covered steps
Kodak VR35 K40
Kodak Max 400 (expired)
2018

At church, we all come in the back door. Our parking lot is back there.

But it means we often forget about our front door. The door that the neighborhood sees. And so on this snowy Sunday, nobody thought to shovel it clean. Were it not for the footprints on the steps, our neighbors might think we were not even open. Indeed, when we encounter them around the neighborhood that’s sometimes what they tell us.

It’s a common trap churches fall into: we know our ways. But we want to meet people who aren’t in our church, and they find our ways strange, or even to make no sense. And we wonder why we seldom see anybody new on Sunday.

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Film Photography

single frame: Snow-covered steps

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Faith, Film Photography

Hot dogs on Holmes Street

You might not think free hot dogs are a good way to meet your neighbors, but they worked fine for us at West Park Christian Church on Indianapolis’s Near Westside.

Church event

Our church is in the Hawthorne neighborhood, just steps off old US 40 and the National Road. Its houses were built in the first couple decades of the last century. Our building is on Addison Street, but our parking lot is on the lot behind us and it empties out onto Holmes Street. As cars and pedestrians passed, we called them in. Many stopped.

Church event

Rob, the husband of our youth pastor, manned the grill. Here he is talking to our lead pastor’s wife, Sue.

Church event

On the left is Wanda, who brought one of her friends. At right is one of our neighbors who stopped by with her children.

Church event

Jay brought his DJ gear and provided the soundtrack.

Church event

He has quite a nice little setup.

Church event

He and Phil (right) are our sound engineers on Sunday mornings.

Church event

Our little church has its challenges. We’re small in number and often lack enough people to carry out our plans. Sometimes we don’t collect a large enough offering to cover expenses. Heck, sometimes we show up on Sunday morning to find we’ve run out of communion supplies. Frankly, we count our blessings every time our worship service happens without any glitches.

But we are good at just being easy-to-approach people in our community. People find quickly that we are the most non-threatening, easiest to talk to Christians they’ve ever met. The hot dogs were just our clever ruse to let our neighbors find that out.

Nikon FA, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Agfa Vista 200

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