I became the new pastor at Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church in March but was unable to have an official installation until August due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. I never thought I’d become a church pastor and not be able to worship and engage with the congregation! The pandemic forced us to quickly determine how to stay connected, while doing just about everything differently.
There were blessings and challenges of working with technology to host our usual 10 a.m. Sunday worship services, bible studies, prayer group, confirmation classes, “coffee hour talks,” and communion via Zoom. It was difficult for us to muster the technology needed to create spectacular pre-recorded worship services for our congregants, so it was through this difficulty that we decided to do live worship through Zoom. This was a blessing in many ways as, before and after services, we would all talk and connect as we would in person – and our participants could be a part of the service and still feel united with one another. A church of our size could have been completely wiped out by COVID-19, but our congregation persevered through it all and found blessings and positivity that kept us connected through this pandemic. Since we couldn’t be together physically, we tried even harder to be together spiritually because ministry is about relationships and our connection to one another.
As a congregation, we have decided to proceed with in-person events with caution. We did a test run of in-person worship while still including our online participants via Zoom, which we are planning to continue. The real challenge is finding a way to make our worship time feel bonded like one community while 60 percent of our congregants are in-person and the other 40 percent are watching online. We are striving to create the best worship experience for our parishioners, and we are finding blessings through the challenges we face – which I believe God urges us to do. When the pandemic finally ends, we will continue offering an online option indefinitely, to support those who might be unwell or out of town. When safe to do so, we look forward to bringing back Wednesday night Faith Builders where we all share a meal and engage in intergenerational, educational activities that encourage community building and spiritual growth – both equally important.
Another way we’ve stayed connected is through “The Breakfast Club,” which began as a way for people new in the church to get to know each other, but quickly evolved to anyone craving a much-missed visit with their friends. Every other Saturday morning, my wife and I gather with six other parishioners to enjoy breakfast and some socially distanced, Christian fellowship during these strange and challenging times.
Since I am new here and engaging with the community and building relationships means a lot to me and our congregation, we invite all interested worshipers to join our church for Sunday morning service. Whether or not you are Lutheran, we welcome people from every creed, lifestyle and background. As Hinesville does not have a Lutheran Church, we also encourage residents to make the short journey out to Richmond Hill to join our congregation, located at 15985 GA-144, across from New Life Church. If you want to participate virtually, visit our website, www.spiritofpeacelutheran.org, and check out our calendar of worship opportunities and Zoom links. I encourage you to visit our joyful church community, where you will be embraced (safely) with open arms.
My wonderful wife, Christine, and I have two college age children – twins, Hope and Oliver. I was born with cerebral palsy and walked on crutches until a severe car accident made me a wheelchair user. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously – it’s not like I was running track before! We all carry some brokenness; because of the chair, mine is visible. Folks understand that I know about pain and loss and are more open to sharing themselves with me, which is a true gift when building relationships. One of the best things about the Spirit of Peace congregation is the abundance of compassion they exhibit. Rather than being hesitant about having a pastor on wheels, they welcomed me jubilantly and eagerly – as they will you!
Devin Strong is the pastor of Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church in Richmond Hill, Georgia. Strong earned a BA in psychology from Carthage College in Wisconsin, a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in Minnesota, and a Doctor of Ministry in Transformation and New Church Development from Columbia Seminary in Georgia.