The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Dr. Campbell B. Singleton, III, Associate Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York.
April 28, 2020
We are in a global respiratory pandemic!
We have been in a protracted battle of our lives fighting a mysterious and lethal virus that has no antidote, vaccine or treatment plan.
These are extraordinary times.
Hospitals have occupied sacred space on the front line of the crisis overwhelmed by the dramatic surge of patients. Traumatized health care providers and first responders have been daily pressed beyond their capacity working long hours as both priests and professionals caring for those sickened by the coronavirus. Scientists have been feverishly testing possibilities in laboratories seeking to develop a cure. Governors have been frantically working to flatten the curve by enforcing community mitigating measures, increasing testing, securing personal protection equipment (PPE) and sharing ventilators.
As the virus rapidly spread, we witnessed its stunning impact ravishing the world. Hysteria and fear swept the land. Panicked shoppers emptied shelves in stores. Infected people were quarantined. Families were isolated. Businesses were shut down. Events cancelled or postponed. Millions of people were suddenly unemployed. People quickly became food insecure. Medical resources were stretched thin. Racial health and wealth gaps were exposed. The government’s distribution of monies through the payment protection program revealed power inequities.
Worst of all – more than 55,000 precious people have died and a disproportionate number have been the elderly in our nursing homes and persons of color residing in economically depressed communities. Funeral homes, morticians and cemeteries inundated with calls have not kept pace with exploding demand for their services. Mourning families pain was exacerbated with delays, imposed social distancing restrictions as well as deceased loved ones being placed in refrigerated tractor trailers waiting to be identified. This ordeal has been horrific and the widespread suffering is enormous. The 2019 normal will not exist again and a new abnormal mode of interaction in 2020 awaits us.
New York emerged as the world’s epicenter of the virus. New York State has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country outside of the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Gov. Andrew Cuomo estimated 2.7 million residents — or 13.9% of the state’s population — have been infected which is more than 10 times the number of confirmed cases. More than 17,000 people in New York have died of virus-related complications.
Our ABC Metro New York churches are reeling from the outbreak of the virus. Some of our churches have suffered as many as 15 COVID-19 related deaths. One pastor who had been sickened by the virus reported that 20 persons had tested positive and 7 persons had died. He courageously said, “I am helpless but not hopeless.” Pastors have created ways to be a prayerful presence listening, visiting, preaching, and officiating virtual funerals without the meaningful in-person communal rituals that have brought comfort and healing. Their churches have used YouTube, Zoom, and Facebook live to provide these virtual services. Without online technology, some churches have stayed connected simply using phone conferences. In the pre-disaster and impact stages of the pandemic, it was common to hear pastors in their Bible studies and sermons proclaim that God was calling for our undivided attention. “God is calling us to spend time with God. We have not led lives that prioritized God and now everything is shut down. This situation is serious.” Others have debated, “Did God cause or allow the COVID-19 pandemic as an expression of God’s anger toward human behavior?” Some have asserted this is a process revealing our true character and our dire need for Jesus and transformation. One unifying thought that permeates the heart of our churches is that the Jesus who suffered on the cross is with us in our suffering and his resurrection provides fresh hope that life and not death has the last word!
Leaders in churches have identified this difficult moment as a strategic evangelistic time to expand their community through outreach, technology in an effort to lead people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. One church sent its “tech team” to surrounding churches to teach them how to use online platforms for ministry while also raising monies to purchase food for starving people across the globe. Additionally, our churches have been visible in their community providing food through their pantries and extending other supportive services.
In April 2019, eight (8) ABCMNY pastors began the Generosity Project reading the book, “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” written by Tod Bolsinger. We focused on the concept of adaptive leadership and changing the way we do ministry given a shift in context. One year later, we find ourselves needing to apply this adaptive leadership concept in unprecedented times. We are not able to canoe in the river as we expected but now we are in the mountains wondering how will we conduct church given that COVID-19 will prominently be with us into 2021 possibly without cure.
The Generosity projects that these pastors chose in 2019 prepared themselves and their congregations for being in uncharted territories in the mountains of a pandemic. One pastor in Manhattan endeavored to move the congregation to online giving including mobile giving apps. The first Sunday the church couldn’t physically gather they received over $5,000 in tithes and offerings. The church was already engaged in alternative giving and consequently monies flowed in a catastrophe. Another pastor in Brooklyn, New York said he was pleasantly surprised that giving increased and the church had decided to tithe the increased funds to support those agencies on the ground giving relief to hurting people.
One pastor’s project was to increase its meal service in Harlem through the week. She had to end the feeding program in the pandemic because she didn’t want to expose seniors to the virus who served food; however, because she had identified several sources of food earlier in Generosity Project, the church is now serving 150 meals per week. Another young pastor in the group said he was amazed at how many older pastors were listening to him make suggestions as to how they could continue their ministry in this foreign place. This same pastor who had coordinated a series of financial programs in his congregation for more than a year provided an evening April Zoom seminar entitled, “Faith and Finance: Money Matters” addressing issues of credit, mortgage, student loans in this crisis. Another pastor who had also designed a series of workshops with his congregation received testimonies from participants that the money they learned to save and invest was helping them to survive in these lean times. These pastors have put down their canoes and are faithfully leading their congregations in a new place of hope and promise amid unfamiliar mountains.
Rev. Dr. Campbell B. Singleton, III serves as the Associate Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro New York.