Ceres churches by and large have quit meeting in light of state shelter-in-place orders resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s a tough call given there is a biblical mandate found in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing …”
On March 19, Pastor Dick Conners of First Baptist Church of Ceres issued a letter to his flock saying all regular services are suspended until further notice. The church has made audio recordings of sermons available online at sermonaudio.com/firstbaptistceres
“It is not desirable for the church of Jesus Christ to fail to gather together on a regular basis,” wrote Pastor Conners. “However, we are persuaded that in the present situation it is faithful to submit to the human authorities who are exercising their God-given role to protect the community, state and nation. The suspension of our gatherings is temporary and we will be evaluating on a weekly basis when we will resume our regular assembly so that we obey and honor the Lord, serving first His kingdom and His righteousness and being careful not to violate our conscience in the Spirit nor fail to faithfully serve His pleasure.”
Conners also appealed for older members of the church who fall in the at-risk category to make their needs known for the church to meet. He also made an appeal that members continue to give by mail since expenses of the church are not suspended.
Valley Christian Center last met on March 15 and has since closed its doors to all regular services. Pastor Chris Henry said modified services are streamed live on Sundays and Wednesdays through the church’s Facebook page. Instead of a five-song worship set, only one song is offered.
“Because of the online nature, the attention span of individuals is short, especially with music when they can’t or don’t sing along with a crowd,” said Pastor Henry. “Sermons are also shorter, with our total service time going from a traditional 90 minutes down to less than 45 minutes. Again, this is to address the short attention span that the average person has when watching online.”
Henry has found that the online audience is about 80 percent of the numbers showing up at a typical service.
“That is to be expected considering some of our audience don’t have Facebook and some have no internet service at all.”
Age appropriate services for older children are linked for parents to access later.
Pastor Henry said “one benefit to all of this is that some people who would never darken the door of a church are in fact joining us online each week. During this time of hardship and loneliness, many are looking for hope and community, and they find it in our online services. For that, I thank God. He is able to draw those who would never be drawn otherwise. And we do our best to make these times as personal as possible.”
Giving to churches has also dropped in this period of shelter in place. Henry said his church has a 20 percent decrease in tithes and offerings in March and expect April to be even more drastic. But he also noted that unexpected financial gifts have helped.
“We feel fortunate as most of my pastor friends are telling of their giving down around 50 percent. We should be able to survive April. But if the government-mandated elimination of congregating moves into May, I have genuine concern for meeting our obligations.”
Valley View continues to operate its food ministry with modifications, noted the pastor. Typically food has been distributed to those attending short services on Wednesdays and Thursdays, however now a bare bones crew simply hands out the food quickly with gloves and masks and move the line quickly with spacing between each person.
“We are glad we’re still able to provide for those who need, even though the amount of people coming has decreased, no doubt out of fear of infection.”
Henry said the difficulty has been not being able to relate to one another as a church family.
“We all understand that we are staying apart to keep each other safe but we terribly miss meeting each other weekly. We’re a family, and families are supposed to be together. But just like I haven’t been spending time with my parents to help prevent infection, we are apart because we love each other enough to protect each other. Our hope is that we can begin to gather again in May and start a journey toward normalcy. And we also hope those who had never been a part of our church but we’re a part of our online congregation will begin to meet with us at the church, as we once again work together to improve the lives and souls of our city.”