Rev. Reggie Stutzman of the Real Life Church. Source: Linkedin.

Even with challenges mounting, churches continue serving

As the Coronavirus continues its spread, Churches in the South Bronx are adjusting to the challenges of providing food and prayer services to their congregations, even as their own finances and futures grow more precarious. 

In mid-March, the New York Archdiocese and most churches in the Bronx shut down all church services at the recommendation of medical experts. But most have continued assisting their communities in a variety of ways.

Services, when held, now must be streamed. “There are no public services,” said Father Gary Lauenstein, who has been at the Immaculate Conception Church for almost a year. “We are able to hold mass over the internet, which a lot of parishes are doing.”

Prayer services are being streamed through online platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, and Youtube Live. Still, these streams come with their own challenges.

“Facebook Live is definitely utilized,” said Pastor Reggie Stutzman. “There is more of a challenge with Zoom and there’s definitely a learning curve with everything.” 

There is also a challenge with older members of these churches, who are unsure how to navigate some of these streaming services.  To address this challenge, many churches are making phone calls to their members to check in.

Feeding those in need has continued to be a focus of many churches.  St. Ann’s Church, which has long served as a haven for the entire Mott Haven community, is using a delivery system to bring food to those who need it, to comply with social distancing orders.

Pastor Martha Overall says that so many people have a need for this service that the church will continue to provide it unless ordered by the city to stop.

“People are exhausted and they’re scared. There’s always the worry ‘do we have enough food?’ They’re very aware of what’s happening,” said Pastor Overall. “People need food and a prayer.”

Pastor Martha Overall says that so many people have a need for this service that the church will continue to provide it unless ordered by the city to stop.

“People are exhausted and they’re scared. There’s always the worry ‘do we have enough food?’ They’re very aware of what’s happening,” said Pastor Overall. “People need food and a prayer.”

In Hunts Point, the Real Life Church has been instrumental in aiding families through its Prodigal Center, which has served as a pantry and haven for those in need in Hunts Point for years.

“We will keep serving the community of Hunts Point during this time through our pantry, The Prodigal Center,” said Pastor Stutzman.

As deaths mount, a regret of many church leaders is that mourners are unable to gather to honor the dead and comfort each other. The system is currently overwhelmed.

With most funeral parlors closed, the few that are open are inundated with bodies. Pastor Jonathan Rogue of the Damascus Christian Church of Hunts Point said most families do not have the choice of burying their loved ones or even honoring them in joint gatherings.

“It’s difficult, people are having to be cremated so that people don’t have to gather around a wake,” said Pastor Roque. Even as they minister to their communities, many churches are facing an uncertain future because of dwindling finances.

Reverend Roque, who has been with the Damascus Christian Church for 27 years, said the inability to hold in-person services has led to fewer contributions, and that is putting a severe strain on the finances of the church.

“Contributions are the sole source of revenue,” said Reverend Roque. “With people losing their jobs, the last thing they are thinking about in a crisis is making contributions.”

Reverend Roque is concerned with the possible consequences this could have.

“It could close the church. Just being realistic. I am hopeful it won’t, but that’s the challenge that many of our churches are facing today,” he said.

The Damascus Christian Church is not the only church sharing these economic concerns.

“I’m not sure what the future holds for us, to be honest.” said Pastor Stutzman, who has been at the Real Life Church for 10 years.” It is quite the ominous feeling.” 

Despite all the challenges these churches face, there is hope that things will clear up soon and they will be able to resume ministering to their congregations in a more personal and robust fashion.

“I don’t know what the end result will be but we will get through this. It’s a challenging time for sure, but as in everything we trust in the Lord,” said Pastor Stutzman.

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