Having to keep its congregation together amidst a crippling pandemic, personal illness, and separations, Bible Way Baptist Church’s answer to the coronavirus has been to remain steady and adaptable.
Some Bible Way members have experienced the illness firsthand, while others have had loved ones die from it. Nevertheless, they said they’ve gotten through it because the church has continued to care.
“I’ve been at Bible Way 26 years and this is just uncharted waters,” said senior pastor the Rev. Dr. Damone B. Jones. “At first, I was afraid because I didn’t know what to do to keep the church together. I was just feeling a little lost. If people aren’t coming to the building, this also means they are not bringing offerings, which means, especially for small churches, you can lose the building.
“Then I wondered, what will the future look like when we come out this pandemic? Will people want to go back to the old way of doing [church] or go forward, [being] progressive? It taught us we were doing things we didn’t need to do. I’m not saying we don’t need the building [but] it shows us we can function as a church, even without the things we thought we had to have.”
Jones added that this lesson, although forced upon them by the crisis, is one that is based in Scripture.
“Ironically, that’s what the Bible says – the church is the people, not the building, but until you are actually in the situation, that doesn’t really capture you,” he said. “It’s not until we are no longer in the building that we realize, we don’t necessarily need the building.”
Bible Way has illustrated this idea in several ways. The regular services – including Sunday worship, Bible study and prayer have all been established online. The prayer services include a moment for fellowship, during which people can greet and encourage one another. A Bible Way Facebook page and Members Care phone line are open for people to request prayer in the face of death and illnesses.
Members noted that the more personal and tedious work of reaching people while they are dealing with hard life issues has also remained constant.
“I got diagnosed with COVID-19,” said Minister Gregory Barber, leader of the prison ministry. “It’s an experience that I never felt before. [I] didn’t know whether I was going to live or die because [my] strength and energy was taken.”
“It was hard to go to the bathroom. It was times I wasn’t eating. It was hard to hold food down, no taste and I barely moved. That was a very scary situation, but the Bible Way family was giving me strength. The minsters were praying, calling to make sure I was okay and giving encouraging words. Pastor and First Lady [Dr. Melissa Jones] called to check on me and see how I was doing.”
Alice Randall, 86, a member for 30 years, said members still call to check on her and “a couple have come around.” She has also had communion in her home. Gestures like this, she said, make her feel good, but she still misses the fellowship.
“I do hope we can get back to having regular Bible study, regular service but we can’t tell how long it’s going to be,” Randall said.
Shannon Phillips, a member for 11 years, stated that when her uncle died from the coronavirus, Jones and members helped her deal with the death.
“To know that my church family and pastor reached out, that made me feel good because it’s hard to mourn during this pandemic because you can’t comfort your loved ones the way you want,” she said. “Just talking to my family in Christ, that helped me [make it] through.”
Phillips added that she misses the fellowship but that she’s still been able to grow with Bible Way’s new way of doing church.
“To me, the experience is more geared toward learning. It kind of takes away from the fellowship experience because I can’t be amongst other members of my church. But for me, receiving the sermons as well as the Bible study, it pushes me to study more. It’s a good motivator to stay in my Word and continue to study.”
She said that Jones’ sermons are especially helpful because of their relevancy.
“It can be very easy to lose faith right now but… these sermons [help] my mind to understand that circumstances like these aren’t new,” Phillips said. “In one of his sermons, he made reference to the story of Noah and the flood. It was an awakening for me because I wasn’t even thinking about that and how in a sense Noah and his family were in a pandemic. They stayed [shut in] for over a year. It encouraged me that now is the time to have a plan for my life.”