Saving Your Neighbor’s Grandma with Blessing in a Box
By Lindsay Peyton
Instead of giving coronavirus the upper hand, Asbury UMC in Pasadena rose to the challenge and found innovative ways to serve its congregants and the community.
When Rev. Lindsay Kirkpatrick at Asbury UMC first heard about limits on the size of social gatherings to 250 people in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, she decided to cancel services on Sunday. “We wanted to model good behavior,” she said.
There are typically about 200 people in the pews on Sundays, since the church is small. Still, Kirkpatrick wanted to do the right thing. She talked to her congregation about the meaning, and importance, of sacrifice.
“Sacrifice requires you to give something up,” she said. “By us doing this, you might save your neighbor’s Grandma. That’s worth it for us.”
Asbury UMC tried to livestream instead, but the technology did not match Kirkpatrick’s expectations. The video was skipping, and the pastor began to grow frustrated with the option.
“It started to sink in for me – what this would look like, and what it would mean to the church,” she said. “I worried that people would get out of the habit of worshipping together on Sunday morning.”
Kirkpatrick wanted to avoid that outcome – and she hoped Asbury UMC could find ways to be leaders in Pasadena during the pandemic, to show that the congregation could still provide outreach and offer important services in a time of crisis.
The next Monday, Kirkpatrick convened her dream team – Pam Sweny in missions, Susan Palmer from community connections and Diane Peppo in member care. “We met for three hours,” the pastor recalled. “I knew that whatever church we were going to have in the next couple of weeks, it was going to be all online. They put their minds together, and came up with some amazing ideas.”
Contemporary worship leader Laurel Waller and videographer Alice Webb stepped up to take a different twist on services, pre-recording and editing two sessions to air each Sunday morning.
Children’s members began offering a weekly Zoom meeting for students, and the youth group also started having virtual game nights and activities where they can get together online. The pre-school hosts a 10-minute circle time and lesson on YouTube. One of the children's directors Jaye Lynne Rooney even wrote an Easter resource for children.
One of the first outreach ideas to develop out of the meeting of church leaders was building a Blessing Box. The church was inspired by the idea of Little Free Libraries, a container for free books for the community that individuals place in their yards. Instead of offering books, congregants wanted to have a place where people in need could access food.
“A lot of food pantries were having to close their doors, but the need was going up,” Kirkpatrick said. “People were already losing their jobs.”
Asbury UMC purchased a large Rubbermaid shed and stocked it with non-perishable food items and personal care items. The Blessing Box Ministry was born, and members of the community could access the items inside for free.
Eventually, Asbury contacted other UMCs in Pasadena to see if they would also provide the service. Now, Sunset, Hope Community, Parkwood, Deer Park and First UMC all offer a Blessing Box.
“It’s not just for church members, it’s for anyone in the community,” Kirkpatrick said. “They can get diapers, toilet paper or canned goods.”
Before the shelter-in-place requirement was issued, Asbury also collected supplies and donated them to the women’s shelter. “We decided to be a supply station,” Kirkpatrick said. “These places needed things in a large quantity and had to serve a lot of people.”
Asbury UMC started a “Serve Spotlight,” to showcase on social media businesses that were helping others in the community. This allows members to support businesses that care, and increases church followers by connecting the congregation with area residents.
“It’s evangelism and mission,” Kirkpatrick said. “It helps the businesses, and it extends our outreach. It’s aligned with our core values.”
Asbury UMC also started its “Daily Prayer Moment” series on social media. Each staff member takes one day a week to appear on Facebook around 6 p.m. and lead congregants in a brief prayer for a place or population in need. Then, they say the Lord’s Prayer together. These posts often get between 200 and 1,500 views.
Helping elderly members was also a top priority, Kirkpatrick said. After calling seniors who were staying home to learn their greatest needs, the church discovered that many wanted help with online ordering.
Asbury UMC developed a phone line at the church, where there are two or three people on a two-hour shift ready to help place online orders for their senior members. Since the program has become so successful, Kirkpatrick decided to extend the service to seniors in the community at large.
In addition, the church has engaged members in creating “Make It Videos,” sharing their skills with others in the congregation. “It’s another way of engagement, to build community and learn from each other,” Kirkpatrick said.
The videos allow for fellowship, for church members to connect more in a time when it would be easy to connect less. “This is a time for more engagement, not less,” Kirkpatrick said.
It’s teaching us a lot about what are the real drivers of church – connection and growth.”
Initially, she worried that Asbury UMC would struggle to survive in the pandemic – but the church has only been more engaged with its community.
“My hope is that we can come out of this stronger than before,” Kirkpatrick said. “We can be praying for revival. I do believe that God can bring good out of all things. There’s so much good that is possible out of this – if we are willing to go outside the box and dive into things that we’ve never done before.”
She advises other churches to remember that nothing has to be perfect right now. “People are so hungry for connection,” she said. “Get it out there. It needs to be quick. They care more about that than they wonder if it can be tweaked.”
It’s time for experimentation – to find ways that church can stay connected with and even better serve its members. “We’re in the season of throw everything up on the wall and see what sticks,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is a season for innovation. There’s not as much consequence for failing, so why not just try it?”
To learn more about Asbury UMC, visit asbury.cc. To join the daily prayers, visit the congregation on Facebook at facebook.com/AsburyUMChurch/.