As we celebrate Christmas this holiday season, may we also lament over the fatalities and the threats of the decimation of life as we know it. The church — which is designed to offer refuge, faith, hope, and love — has been devastated since the invasion of the COVID-19 virus.
Even though it’s said that there are many “CME” Christians, who only visit their church on Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter, the pandemic has drastically cut the numbers of faithful who were regularly in attendance throughout the year, as the public has been advised to avoid crowds and possible sickness.
All churches regionally, nationally, and globally have experienced significant losses in attendance and tithing. This has created limitations, or, in some cases, a total inability to help the poor and needy in their communities.
South Los Angeles churches have always dealt with the looming hardships of maintaining their ministries, due to the fact that 29% of the populace in their demographic is living at poverty level.
“We must address the signs of our time by using the tools of this generation,” said Pastor Stephan McGlover of the Freewill Missionary Baptist Church, which recently celebrated its 73rd anniversary at 8323 Figueroa St.
“For there shall never cease the poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘you shall open wide your hand to your brother and to the needy and the poor, in your land.’
The practice of “Hybrid Church,” is a new reality for outreach, in most churches. It has combined the access of in-person worship with that of remote worship, through social media and other formats of live streaming on the internet.
This digital worship has blown up during the pandemic and is here to stay.
Freewill MBC uses Zoom, Facebook and conference calling with its congregation and McGover said that although the technology has made it more possible to reach the gospel all over the world, it has been an adjustment.
“Most of the seniors, I find, have a hard time with zoom,” McGover said. “Conference calling is better. I did Bible study with them on that.”
He noted that the internet connections do have benefits, but they also have drawbacks.
“Too many people have become pajama Christialns,” McGlover said of those congregants online. “They don’t really have the focus. They’re able to do other things.”
The pastor complained that the pandemic situation hasn’t allowed the fellowship and cohesiveness that is necessary in a congregation.
“What happens I find, is that relations are not built the way they need to be, by fellowshipping together,” he said “I miss the old way.”
McGlover noted that the seniors in the congregation helped with the children, but in this new, hybrid church, youth do not have the same experiences. There are no adults to thump a child on the head because they are chewing gum in church. Not on the internet. It’s tougher to be that village that raises a child.
“We miss the village,” McGlover said. “Your local church is invaluable. Working together, training together.”
Freewill MBC has survived the sufferings and the polarizing effects of government mandates that prohibited the gathering of groups, for a time. It also overcame the burdens of mandatory social distancing. Last Saturday, the church expected to service more than 300 disadvantaged youth and families by giving away toys and clothes with partner organization “Acts of Compassion.”
For more than 25 years, the church has sponsored “Twice Fed” a week before Thanksgiving, where they feed visitors the word spiritually and then feed them with hot meals physically.
Still, with the dwindling attendance during covid, Freewill’s tithes and donations are down.
“Yes. ‘Out of sight out of mind.’ It’s so easy to be distracted by the whims of the world,” McGlover said. “It’s been a struggle, but we never did close the doors. We still do wear masks and social distance. I measured it off throughout the church — six feet. We pass out masks at the door. We try to stay on top of it.”
The Hays Tabernacle, CME Methodist Church at 10121 Central Ave., was established in 1953 and was among one of the first churches in Los Angeles owned and operated by African-Americans. Unfortunately, their outreach to the community has come to a close, as the resources have been exhausted for quite some time.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Everytime we love, everytime we give, it’s Christmas.”
— Dale Evans Rogers
Visitors to First AME Church (FAME) on Adams, must register on its website to attend in person, and there are three services: 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon. Proof of vaccination is required. Services are broadcast on radio at 10:30 and FAME also offers Sunday School on zoom.
“Please be assured that your private and personal information provided in the worship registration form above, will be used only in managing FAME’s worship attendance process, and will not be shared beyond that official effort,” reads the church website.
COVID Test will be required of all FAME staff, volunteers, clergy, that enter and remain on church property for more than 15 minutes. Masks are a requirement for all services, (KN95, N95) or Double/Triple layer. Paper masks are not acceptable. Sunday school lessons are available.
Masks are recommended at Crenshaw Christian Center, which offers one service, at 10:30 a.m. Services are streamed online. During covid, there is no nursery, children’s ministry, or teen services.
“All of the doors in the FaithDome will be open so you should dress warmly and bring a jacket,” according to the church website.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be reopening Bible studies at this time. You may tune in on-line on Tuesdays at 11am and 7:30pm on Roku, Facebook Live, YouTube or Faithdome.org. We will continue with this method of ministry until further notice,” the center’s site reads.
“In care for our congregation and community, we strived to intently follow the guidance of all local and federal health ordinances and safety protocols,” says the e-newsletter for Grace United Methodist Church on Slauson Avenue.
For the past three years of the pandemic, the Grace guidelines state that there is only one Sunday service at 10:45 a.m.; the service is offered In-person, on Zoom and on YouTube. In-person attendees must RSVP, so the church can prepare; mask-wearing is required for all in-person worship attendees; temperature readings are taken upon entrance; and COVID-19 tests and mask-wearing is required for all worship service leaders unless speaking/leading, after which, masks will be reworn.
Grace UMC also has Bible Studies online, but has not restarted its Sunday School program as of yet. The food pantry is still being held regularly, and those in need can call 211. In LA, 211 is the locally based, nonprofit guide to the services & information needed to navigate life. Food assistance is a popular search at https://211la.org.
Just in time for the traditional surge in demand for food banks over the holidays, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank recently received a boost in the form of a $125,000 donation from Bank of America to help address food insecurity in Greater Los Angeles.
This year, food banks and pantries at local churches and community centers have noted that rising food prices and supply chain issues are creating an additional burden for families — and food banks they rely on — this holiday season.
The most recent funds from Bank of America will enable the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to provide 500,000 additional meals for local people in need.
The donation is the result of a unique campaign BofA created encouraging its own local bank employees to get a new coronavirus booster or flu shot this season, with money going to local hunger relief organizations for every shot an employee gets.
Nationwide, BofA employees generated $8 million to food banks this fall. It’s the second employee booster campaign the bank has done, and together, both efforts have generated nearly $20 million in additional funding to local food banks nationwide while helping to mitigate rising flu and covid cases amongst its employees.
J. Dennis Malcolm contributed to this story.