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'It's the people that make the church': DeKalb County churches during COVID-19 closures

DeKalb County religious leaders say they’re OK despite finances, shutdowns

Immanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Marty Marks and his daughters Sadie, (left) 16, and Chloe, 10, from DeKalb, lead a preschool class via Facebook Live Tuesday from the church in DeKalb. Viewers were able to sing songs, hear a Bible story and meet Sadie's pet rabbit Quinn.
Immanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Marty Marks and his daughters Sadie, (left) 16, and Chloe, 10, from DeKalb, lead a preschool class via Facebook Live Tuesday from the church in DeKalb. Viewers were able to sing songs, hear a Bible story and meet Sadie's pet rabbit Quinn.

Ever since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Pastor Marty Marks of Immanuel Lutheran Church in DeKalb has had a lot on his mind.

Marks has been helping oversee the health and safety of his family and his congregation, the education of his church’s preschool students, conducting online worship services and keeping up with church finances – without having a collection each week.

“We have been blessed with the financial support of the congregation, and we are very grateful people take the time to remember the church,” Marks said. “When the pandemic first started, people were very generous with their support and giving. Donations have been going down, but we still have the same costs as before.”

The church applied for and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, which helped pay staff and preschool teachers’ wages.

The church has continued its mission by offering weekly worship services via Facebook Live, printing a weekly newsletter bulletin, collecting nonperishable food for The Salvation Army’s food pantry, routinely calling all church members and hosting online Bible studies for adults and e-learning for its preschool students.

“In spite of the challenges, we’ve found ways to love and care for each other,” Marks said. “Community is hugely important, it’s built into how God envisioned the church. There are lots of ways to stay connected, to keep being God’s people during the pandemic and after. We have to continue God’s work and be a positive force during all of this.”

For Pastor Jane Hamilton, interim minister at First Baptist Church of DeKalb, the health and safety of her congregation members has been the utmost importance during the pandemic.

“We are OK,” Hamilton said. “Money is the least of our concerns right now. We do what we can to sustain our congregation, stay connected and support and encourage each other.”

First Baptist Church of DeKalb uses Zoom meetings for worship services and Bible study and reaches out via mail, email and telephone to share information and keep in touch with its congregation.

A Bible passage Hamilton has often heard and shared with her congregation members is 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your cares on God because he cares for you.”

Hamilton said that she has been humbled by the faith of her congregation, who create posters and give tokens of appreciation to nursing home residents as an outreach program during the pandemic.

“As a church, we are bound in love, and it is our Christian duty to reach out to each other in natural concern,” she said. “I reach out to church members without internet every week, we serve those in isolation. We are firmly grounded in the eternal and know that trouble in life is just trouble in life. We have a faith that sustains us through God’s power and prayer.”

Sycamore United Methodist Church also continues its programming with the help of a PPP loan, which helped pay the wages of staff.

“Receiving PPP has allowed our preschool program to maintain its outreach, and we have not furloughed any of our 20 staff,” Senior Pastor Dan Swinson said. “Because of the PPP and people continuing to support the church, we have been able to maintain and continue our programming in addition to our virtual church services, Bible studies, women’s circles and Zoom meetings.”

Sycamore UMC was able to offer a drive-around scavenger hunt that had more than 90 families participating. The church’s food pantry continues to operate in a drive-thru style on Mondays from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Groups of volunteers write notes to nursing homes and shut-ins on a regular basis.

The church’s LIFE Missions’ youth group uses an oversized plush bear, nicknamed Jerry Bear, and a notebook with words of encouragement to connect with the community. Jerry Bear has already been dropped off at over 12 homes and there are more than 150 participants on the list.

“We’re called to be faithful and continue our programming, which are ways we show we care about our community,” Swinson said. “Churches tend to be building-bound. [The coronavirus] has forced us out of the building, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We continue to be faithful and continue to do our ministry. The church is not a closed, dark building that nobody thinks about. The ministry continues.”

“The church is not just a building, it’s the people that make a church,” Darlene Hillman, the office manager at Immanuel Lutheran Church in DeKalb, said. “With great adversity comes great opportunity. We can use what’s happening during the coronavirus to let people know that God loves and cares about them and so do we. It reminds us that we bring the church with us wherever we go. The church is wherever you are.”

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