In July many churches across Amherst County are buzzing with children’s laughter, colorful props and spiritually enriching gatherings as part of vacation bible school.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused congregations to come up with creative ways this year to keep such activities going under unprecedented circumstances that largely affected in-person church activities.
Randolph Memorial Baptist Church for the first time in its history went to a virtual format for its traditional summertime outreach, said Derik Hamby, the church’s pastor. Every Monday in July the church held virtual sessions with biblical lessons filmed on the James River, music and a craft activity.
Like many churches, Randolph Memorial Baptist on U.S. Business 29 in Madison Heights has had to adapt the safety protocols to bring worshipers under its roof. Church gatherers adhere to the rule 6-foot social distance, wear masks and clean seating.
Embracing virtual ministry also has been a major tool, Hamby said. The church records Wednesday night lessons online, holds Zoom sessions for Sunday school groups and streams services on its website while also holding in-person worship under the social distancing protocols.
“We still have more online [participants] than in person, which is OK,” Hamby said. “We want people to stay safe.”
While Randolph Memorial Baptist during COVID-19 has not brought back nursery or children’s activities, Hamby said keeping vacation bible school a fixture of summer was important.
“We have always found vacation bible school, for the children, is a time to really focus on faith formation and spiritual growth,” Hamby said. “They’ve already been isolated since March from their regular activities in life. We didn’t want to take yet another thing away.”
The virtual bible school ministry helped provide stability and consistency in serving local children and was an innovative outreach tool for folks looking for a faith home, Hamby said.
“This is a time where we pull together,” he said of reaching children and families with the Gospel in a creative way. “It’s a mission we do. And we needed that.”
On July 24 the church opened up its doors for children to come by for some brief face-to-face fellowship and gatherers also collected donations for a Christmas food drive. Hamby said the Christmas food collection is another church tradition and this year Randolph Memorial Baptist members were determined to keep taking part. The ministry, which includes other local churches, helps about 200 families, he said.
Jonah and the whale was the theme of this year’s bible school. Hamby, whose son played Jonah, said the children were upbeat and glad to take part.
Rachel Clayton, of Monroe, brought her three young boys by the church on July 24 to pose with an inflatable whale. Clayton said the ministry has given her sons a fun way to stay engaged in Christian activities in a setting geared toward them. It gave them something to look forward to each week in July, she said.
“I wanted them to have an activity to do. There’s nothing going on,” Clayton said. “Being Christians, it’s very important to keep them in the church. It’s important to keep up with their lessons and learning.”
The church’s main goal is to serve God while keeping people safe, Hamby said.
“We’re doing everything we can humanly possible,” he said of trying to reduce the risk of COVID-19. “We’re following all Virginia protocols to the best of our abilities. When we learn new things, we do it … we’re just trying to encourage people during a time that is extremely difficult. It’s historical.”
Church leaders are checking on people and working hard to make sure members have a connection point, he said. When the coronavirus eventually is in the rearview he said the church will have the benefit of a technological platform it has much improved in recent months.
“I believe it’s a new beginning for us,” Hamby said.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.
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