Church in a box
The “Camp in a Box” initiative was a huge success this summer, but in the early days of COVID-19, The Salvation Army in Marietta, Ohio, offered something called “Church in a Box.”
Lieutenants Elisha and Megan Moretz, the corps officers in Marietta, prepared and delivered 15-20 packages every week to their congregation for 12 weeks. The packages included a printed sermon, Bible study, Sunday school material, activity sheets, and a music CD. Occasionally, there was a snack or a craft.
“For many people, that was church,” Megan said. “They were grateful. Delivering printed church material was a way for them to stay connected to their faith and to their community. We knew we were all studying the same passages at the same time.
“It was basic, but every week our members really appreciated the thought put into it. The idea is that church isn’t the physical building, it’s wherever you’re connecting with God and with a community.”
The Moretzes serve in an extremely rural part of Ohio and many of their congregants are tech novices.
“More than two-thirds of our corps members don’t have internet access or a computer in the home,” Megan explained. “Many in our congregation either don’t have access to the technology or don’t know how to use it to access church services.”
For example, Megan said one member has a phone, but finds it difficult to access Zoom, FaceTime, and videos.
Elisha said he and Megan tried to overcome the technology dilemma each week by burning worship music CDs.
“They could pop that CD in and have that time with God,” he said. “We felt that was a good middle ground if people weren’t able to tune in to the various online streams that were offered.”
Every Saturday, she and her husband would deliver the materials.
“These houses are spread out in this rural area,” she said. “It probably took three or four hours to make the deliveries.”
Megan got this “old school” idea after reading about pastors who delivered worship materials during the 1918 pandemic.
On June 7, the the Moretzes resumed in-person services, but still send about five packages a week.
“We continue to send packages every week to corps members who have requested that we do, including those with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, and those who don’t own a computer or smartphone,” Megan said.
Meeting them halfway
When COVID-19 hit, driving the back roads of Appalachia became commonplace for the Moretzes, especially Elisha.
Elisha remembers when he asked people in the community, “What do you need? We’ll deliver it to your door.” He would then personally deliver Salvation Army food boxes in response to requests.
“That ended up being quite labor-intensive,” Elisha said. “It’s a pretty large county and a lot of the people who were requesting from us were from the outskirts and the smaller towns.
“There was one day when I spent six hours driving along the whole border of the county. I served fewer than 10 people because I was just going from house-to-house on these backwoods, dirt roads.”
To maximize his time, Elisha called schools, fire departments, and other public buildings to establish pick-up locations. He posted an announcement on Facebook, which received more than 100 interactions in the first couple of hours.
“We got a lot of good comments that said this came at just the right time,” Elisha said. “I think it was a needed thing and the timing of it couldn’t have been better with it being summer and kids continuing to be home.”
Every week, Elisha drives a Salvation Army van to pick up 48 food boxes at the Portsmouth, Ohio, Corps. He then drives to a specific location and parks.
“Every Monday, I’m in a different town in our county,” he said. “People just pull up and I load their cars, so there’s no contact. I think it’s been a positive thing.”
Elisha said he’s usually there for three hours, but most people arrive early since the basis is first-come, first-served.
“I can serve upwards of 100 people in a town that we’re not usually in and can do it in a couple of hours,” he said.
Elisha said he is alone 90 percent of the time.
“I don’t want to put the people in danger who I would normally call on from our congregation or from our pool of volunteers,” he said. “If we can minimize personnel and minimize contact, we can keep everyone safe.
“It honestly isn’t too bad because it all clips along at a manageable pace.”
Elisha said that Marietta, the county seat of Washington County, has fewer than 14,000 people. Going to the outer towns means less travel and possible COVID-19 exposure for people in the more rural areas such as Vincent, Matamoras, and Beverly.
“We wanted to try to minimize the need for the people in these towns, who are on the outer ring of our county, to come into what is the biggest city in our county,” he said.
“If people can stay closer to home, all the better. We wanted to serve as many people as possible without them having to come to us. We continue to serve the people who come to our building. We’ve recognized these are people who are out of work or are limiting their travel voluntarily and we appreciated that and want to support them.”
Elisha said the people were receptive and glad to see The Salvation Army.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of gratitude,” he said. “I’ve had people make comments about how good it is to see us just leave our building because sometimes they can feel like we’re just focused on our town. We don’t want people to feel that way.
“We’re here to serve the whole county. We don’t want them to feel like they have to meet us on our terms.”
Moretz, the grandson of Commissioners Lawrence R. and Nancy A. Moretz, former territorial leaders in the USA East, said COVID-19 has allowed the corps to “flex its creative muscles,” whether it’s the “Church in a Box” or the mobile food pantry.
“I might as well try anything that kind of pops into my head—it if it’s going to work and can bring people closer to God in this time,” he said.
by Robert Mitchell