by Eric A. Thomas
Everyone has been faced with doing things differently for the last few months. This new landscape we have entered, thanks to the virus, has left all of us cautious. Technology has helped bridge the divide so we can still connect with others as we navigate this new territory.
Gathering together has been difficult during this time, but with a little creativity, one local congregation has found a new way to share the message with its members.
First Baptist Church of Jacksonville shows you can still come together but stay safe. Starting May 31, Pastor Patrick Embley took to the roof as they moved their service outside. “Our congregation was given the choice of staying in their cars or sitting on the lawn. Each provides the opportunity to spread out and keep their distance,” commented Embley. “By me being on the rooftop, it enables people to see me from both parking lots. They can listen through their car radios.” For those who wish to bring their lawn chairs and sit on their grounds, speakers are set up around the church, added the pastor.
To get through this pandemic, it is important that everyone feel comfortable easing back into being out and about safely. Masks are required at First Baptist Church, especially while in the building and if you are closer than six feet to others while attending Sunday morning service outdoors.
The church has eliminated passing common touch items such as offering plates and communion trays. “After listening to the experts saying it is permissible to meet inside, we have chosen to hold meetings outdoors. We believe it to be safer,” continued Embley.
Through these uncertain times, Embley has kept in contact with members of their congregation by calling them and utilizing the churchwide phone system that informs them of prayer requests, news and updates.
Since March, they have offered an online worship service and have continued this for those not comfortable with joining the service in person.
In the coming weeks, First Baptist Church will be refreshing their youth and children’s ministry with an emphasis on safety and health. Senior high and middle school youth groups are Sunday nights from 6-7:30. Kingdom builders, for first through fifth graders, is held Monday from 4-5:30 p.m. This fall, the church will be resuming adult Bible study.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by this experience and also delighted in the many visitors who have attended our services,” concluded Embley. “God has blessed us with beautiful weather each morning and it has been refreshing to worship God outdoors.”
The church is located at 1701 Mound Rd. with office hours from 8:30 – 11:30 a.m. Monday – Friday. The pantry is open each Thursday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. for those in need. Sunday church on the lawn begins at 10 a.m.
Their website is www.jacksonvillefirstbaptist.org and they also maintain an active Facebook page at “First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Illinois” where they post sermon videos on Sunday and devotional videos through the week.