Arkansas churches minister in spite of COVID-19 challenges

LITTLE ROCK – In a time of uncertainty, churches around the country are having to switch to alternative methods of meeting in order to keep their congregations safe and healthy. The idea of streaming and having live feeds to services seems easy enough, but the reality is that some people don’t have the means to be able to view it.

Alternative methods

First Baptist Church in West Memphis decided to try an alternative method that didn’t involve having internet access, but instead just a radio.

Josh Hall, the lead pastor at First Baptist, spoke about where he got the idea. “All the credit goes to God and my wife.”

This past Sunday, March 22nd, they held a drive-in service. Just like you’d go to a drive-in movie theater, cars parked in their parking lot facing their welcome center. Smaller cars were asked to go to the front, while bigger trucks and SUVs were asked to park in the back. Scaffolding was set up at the very front with sound equipment, where Hall and FBC’s associate music minister, Johnny Coggin would stand so everyone could see them.

The church had recently discovered a stereo FM transmitter in a storage closet and decided to use it. Cars could then turn to the radio station provided to hear what was happening at the front. And that’s how they had church. Drive-in movie style.

“We as God’s people want to be together,” Hall said. He said that the original plan was to hold services in the church with only 50 people in different sections. But when the announcement was made that only 10 people could gather in a group, he became discouraged as to what to do.

“We didn’t want people to get in the habit of missing church,” he said. “But we also knew that there were people in our congregation who don’t have access to the internet.”

The alternative method presented to him by his wife and God gave the best of both worlds. Being able to gather as a church, remain at a safe distance, and provide the opportunity to continue worshipping corporately.

Parking lot wi-fi

Many Arkansas students and parents find themselves having to do work from home instead of being in an office or classroom as is their normal routine. This can present challenges. Though it may seem like the availability to Wi-Fi and the internet is common, it’s actually not, especially in rural areas.

Holland Chapel Baptist Church in Benton saw schools and businesses shift to online before most of the state. Saline County was a part of the first wave of school closures. According to Josh Turner, missions and outreach pastor, their idea was first mentioned in an office meeting.

They were looking for a way to provide assistance to those who needed Wi-Fi to complete the Alternative Method of Instruction (AMI) schoolwork or to complete office work while complying with the suggested social distancing guidelines.

They removed Wi-Fi routers off the ceiling and placed them in the windows enabling the Wi-Fi signal to reach into the parking lot. They began to advertise that free Wi-Fi was available in the parking lot, where people could complete any needed work from the safety of their vehicle.

Turner said they’ve observed people using it, so they believe it’s having a positive effect.

Holland Chapel has also partnered with local schools in the area to hand out breakfast bags for kids that contain a juice box, a fruit cup, and Pop-Tarts. Parents drive through and are handed the bags through a window. First Baptist Church in Benton has also partnered with them in this ministry along with businesses in the community.

“It’s becoming a community effort which is encouraging,” Turner said.

Supporting hunger ministries

Another problem has developed as school doors remain closed and students are kept at home. Many of those students receive meals through their school, and that’s no longer a possibility. Businesses, local food banks, schools, and churches are coming together to make sure K-12 students don’t go hungry.

Friendship Baptist Church, Vilonia, is one of many churches providing a helping hand in this effort. Chris “Taco” Franco, the church’s associate pastor, said that through the backpack program in the area, they are going to be helping to feed approximately 120 kids and pass out boxes of food to approximately 25 families. The backpack program is an initiative of Feeding America which is run through local food banks across the country. This program provides healthy, ready-to-eat meals for children on weekends when can’t eat at school.

Bags of food are assembled in food banks and distributed across the state to various locations at the end of a school week to be given to the children who need them for the weekend. Friendship Baptist in Vilonia partnered with the Vilonia School District and the Arkansas Food Bank to pack backpacks for the children receiving them this past weekend.

Arkansas Baptists have always stepped up in times of adversity and this uncertain time has seen no difference in the servant hearts that are within our congregations. If you’d like to help, contact your local food bank and see how you can best volunteer. You can also contact your local school district to see what efforts they are making to help children during this time and how you can assist in those efforts.

By Sarah Vaughn, a content writer for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

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