Staying connected in a disconnected world
Even though Pastor Michael Simmerman is in the middle of being self-quarantine, he is still finding a meaningful way to connect with his church members.
In response to the pandemic crisis, Bethel Baptist Church of Owatonna began live online streaming Sunday at 9 a.m. Simmerman delivered his message without leaving home from the confines of his basement office. The rest of the service featured a few people providing music from the church.
Doing church service in his own home has been an “unexpected blessing” for Simmerman. He used his small children’s Crayola markers and paper duct taped to the wall as a visual during the sermon.
Simmerman’s self-quarantine expires Friday so he expects to be back in the church building presenting his sermon together with the worship presenters for next week’s online service.
Earlier this month, Simmerman flew overseas into Amsterdam. In mid-flight, he received the news that the U.S. had placed a ban on travel to foreign countries. He had planned to visit a church in Ukraine, but he decided to turn around and quickly come back home once the travel restriction was put in place.
Once Simmerman returned back home, he placed himself in a 14-day quarantine to protect others from possible exposure. He does not have the coronavirus, but he is taking all the necessary precautions.
Besides dealing with a quarantine, Simmerman had another issue on his hands. He had to figure out how to continue church services after the CDC recommended no large gatherings take place. “What we had to do in the last two weeks is find a way to keep people’s routine in place,” he said.
Bethel Church decided to offer live streaming of services. “That has been a helpful and familiar piece to know you can count on a gathering on Sunday morning,” Simmerman said. “Our goal is that we have to find ways to keep people connected. We need to keep people as connected as possible.”
The only glitch Bethel ran into this past weekend was some technical difficulties with live streaming. “The internet couldn’t handle all the streaming at one time,” Simmerman said, pointing out that many other churches are doing the same thing.
About 450 people worship at Bethel on a normal Sunday. Simmerman isn’t sure how many are tuning in to worship on the live stream, but he vows to keep doing this as long as needed to get through the pandemic crisis.
Simmerman reminds people that “God is in control of everything.” And he is confident that good will arise from this crisis. “God controls the circumstances,” Simmerman said. “I can’t imagine not having the piece of understanding that God is with us through all of this.”
The pastor acknowledges his mission over the coming weeks will be to help people make sense of the serious crisis facing the world. Through his preaching, Simmerman plans to show how people can best help others in this time of need. “The world is broken, what do you put your hope in,” he said.
The coronavirus, Simmerman says, will no doubt produce a mixture of hardship and difficulty for many people. But, he reassures, God will absolutely use this for the good in the end.
Simmerman said it was important for churches like Bethel to follow the government’s recommendations to avoid large gatherings. He said Bethel is committed to doing its part in trying to “slow the spread of this.”
While he hopes it won’t drag out for a long time, Simmerman recognizes it could be months before things get back to normal. “It’s all new for us,” he said. “We have never been here before, but we are going to work through this together.”
Simmerman says Bethel has developed a template with its online services in the last few weeks that “could walk us through the foreseeable future.”
For now, Simmerman’s attention is drawn to this coming weekend’s service. “Our hope is to get less than 10 of us together to do a live stream from the sanctuary,” he said. “I think there is a richness of being together in the same place. We can observe the 6-foot rule and practice social distancing,” he added.
The crisis has forced Simmerman to look at doing some things differently with his family in their own home. They have enjoyed singing songs together. “It has a real life element that’s really healthy,” he said.
“We are finding ways to stay connected at a time when we’re told we can’t be connected,” Simmerman said. “We are actually finding that we are more connected.”