Covid-19Magazine Exclusive

What would William Booth do?

Sebastian Thompson operates the camera in Massillon, Ohio.

A second wave of COVID-19 has hit many parts of the country and thrown church services and Sunday schools for a loop.

Several Salvation Army corps had just begun to welcome back in-person Sunday school for children when the virus re-emerged. Some corps have tried to soldier on by having young people social–distance and wear masks, but others opted to play it safe and go virtual.

In Massillon, Ohio, Major Linda-Jo Perks said that, since September, the corps has been presenting a virtual Sunday school that was initially meant for children but surprisingly has also attracted some adults. The theme is the “Heaven Train” and includes songs, scripture verses, stories, and “travel” by way of different Bible stories.

Perks, a former teacher who often wears a train conductor’s hat during the Facebook Live event, said the Sunday school posts before the holiness meeting each week and consistently draws 200 views a week.

“I’m amazed,” Perks said. “It’s people from all over. They’re not just from Massillon. People are telling their friends and passing it along.

“I’ve had the adults of the church watch it because they were intrigued by the props that we have in the chapel and they wanted to know more about it. It goes beyond just children; it’s for everyone.”

 

Adapting to the times

Perks said she didn’t know anything about presenting virtual material before COVID but has been a quick learner. A teen from the corps, Sebastian Thompson, helps out with recording the production each Thursday after school.

“I’m an older officer so this is something I never imagined,” Perks said. “I have trouble with the computer.”

The presentations also offer background music and sound effects. Perks gave the participants a bag of crafts to go with each lesson—and she has more than 100 to pick from various sources.

“COVID has made us get out of the box and do something different,” she said. “We are growing in spite of COVID-19 and we give all the glory to God.”

They’re really thinking outside the box at the Newark, Ohio Corps. Lieutenant Kaitlyn Haddix said the corps tried returning to in-person services, but the COVID cases continue to rise. The congregation is made up of elderly saints and young adults who work in high-risk professions at such venues as schools and nursing homes.

“We decided we can’t put those two groups together,” she said.

Many children also lack the technology for virtual Sunday school.

“Most of our congregation doesn’t have computers,” Haddix said. “Even when schools shut down here locally, they couldn’t afford to get computers and tablets for the kids.”

 

Finding a way to share

Haddix decided to implement an old-school approach used by churches during the 1918 flu pandemic. She hand-delivers materials, such as Orange Sunday school lessons to people so they can hold their own services at home.

“We do a program in a bag,” she said. “We put all the materials in a bag for them and we do it for the holiness meeting as well. We do our women’s ministries and our young adult ministries the same way and we deliver the materials to them every week.”

Haddix said the bags were specially ordered and she hangs them on doors. She often follows up by phone. For the seniors, she checks in on them, but is careful to stay 10 feet away and wear a mask. A local senior high rise also wants to take part and Haddix will soon have 40 more bags to prepare.

“We definitely got creative and we’ve done it from day one since the pandemic hit in March,” she said.

Another corps that got creative was in Darby, Pa. Major Sharon Cupp said the corps has returned to in-person services, but not for Sunday school. Instead, the corps offers a successful Facebook Live event at 3 p.m. that is drawing 50 to 160 views a week.

“For my little corps, that’s good,” Cupp said. “When COVID hit, we had to come up with an innovative way to attract people just like everybody else.

“It was very difficult because I had to look at everybody that we service, and I tried to come up with a good way to attract people.”

 

Another shutdown looming?

Cupp, who designs the lessons herself from a wide range of material, including old curriculum that had been around for years, first tried a 9:30 a.m. event with little success. The afternoon version, however, draws everyone from kids to seniors.

“I think it’s doing great because it helps us look outside the box and to move on,” Cupp said. “I went back and asked myself, If this were William Booth, what would he do? I did a lot of praying about it.

“I’m thankful for technology and I never thought I would say that because I’m not a techie person.”

With COVID making a comeback, many corps are struggling as they see cases rise.

Captain Katie Mayes, the corps officer in Sidney, Ohio, said children and adults have been meeting in person for Sunday school for just a few weeks. However, COVID cases are creeping up and could put an end to it all soon.

“We’re slowly getting kids back,” she said. “We just got permission to transport.”

Mayes said some parents won’t let their kids return yet, but for the handful of kids who have been coming, the corps is blessed with the space for social distancing.

“It’s extremely challenging, but to our advantage the kids are so used to wearing the masks because they wear them all day at school,” she said.

 

They’re starting to return

Mayes said the corps has tried to stay connected through a toy giveaway and a back-to-school effort, but many remain wary.

“As soon as we were able to, we tried to have something fun for the kids, but it definitely makes things a little different,” she said.

Captain Giovanni Romero said the Union City, N.J., Corps has been holding in-person services since June and started children’s Sunday school about six weeks ago.

Romero said only a handful of children are attending, so it’s not a challenge keeping them apart or wearing masks.

The adults are also back for a shortened Sunday school.

“It’s been very, very challenging,” he said. “I think it’s getting better because we see people coming back.”

Romero said about 20 people are coming each week. The corps was drawing about 80-100 pre-COVID. During the early days of COVID, the corps distributed and delivered food and endeared itself to the community.

“We wanted them to feel taken care of and also that they were a part of the community. I think the results were good. Over the months, the people have expressed their commitment to The Salvation Army and to our corps.

“We’re happy we did that because it kept people in the loop and when they had a chance to come back, many of them did.”

 

Keeping them distanced

At the Reading, Pa., Temple, the corps has not returned to in-person Sunday school but is holding children’s church during the holiness meeting for any kids who attend using the Orange curriculum.

“We haven’t received too many kids because the parents are afraid to get together again, so they’re not bringing the kids to the corps,” said Lieutenant Hector Cid. “Of the few we do receive, we try to accommodate them and present the Bible.”

The corps takes all the necessary safety precautions, including passing out individually wrapped snacks. The kids are also able to spread out in a large multi-purpose room with plenty of staff.

“They’re constantly reminding the kids to wear masks and put them back on,” Cid said.

Cid said the corps has also taken advantage of Zoom and Facebook Live to get through the pandemic.

“We see a lot of consideration and kindness from our soldiers,” he said. “They are eager to get back to normal, but again, we need to really be careful with what’s going on.”

by Robert Mitchell

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