The best way to connect with members is with a hug over the phone

Date Posted: 11/12/2020

By Lindsay Peyton
Strawbridge UMC is giving “HUGS” to every member -- over the phone. While the ministry “His Unmeasurable Grace Saves” began prior to COVID-19, the need for connection seems so much more urgent now. Participants have found a “hug” from the church goes a long way.
The Rev. Beth Chenault, executive associate pastor, first discovered the ministry while attending a conference in Tennessee about eight years ago. The concept impressed her right away. “Calling and caring about people works all of the time,” Chenault said. “I just thought what a cool idea. Why haven’t we been doing this?” When she got back to Texas, she contacted the HUGS presenter. “This was clearly his heart,” she said. “He was so kind and sent me everything they used.”
Strawbridge UMC tweaked the model and made it their own. Usually, about six callers make up the ministry.

Before COVID-19, all of the callers would gather together in the church office, pray and share a devotion before making the calls together. Chenault said that the gathering was special and added a sense of mission to the calls. Each member received a phone call from the church in the fall and in the spring. Callers simply asked how they were doing and if they had any needs or concerns.
Now, because of the coronavirus, the church added a third round of HUGS to the calendar. “We will probably continue to do this more regularly than in the past,” Chenault said.  She explained that even prior to the pandemic, there were always challenges and stressors in church members’ lives. Knowing that congregation cares about them can make a world of difference.
“This is a way for us to connect with people, to find out if they have any concerns,” Chenault said. “It’s also a great way to keep up with membership.”
Callers mourn about deaths in the family or learn about new diagnoses on the phone calls. They celebrate births, weddings and other life events with their members.
“It’s just a way for us to connect and share,” Chenault said.
If a church member would like to pray over the phone, the callers are more than happy to oblige. If they have a need, the member care team responds. They have picked up groceries and run errands for members confined to their homes during the pandemic. 
At times, the call will notify the church that a family has moved away or changed addresses.  Recently, a caller was telling Chenault about members who had to move. “This is one of the things we’ll miss about the church, the fact that you always check on us,” they told her.
“It’s such a simple thing,” Chenault said. “Just picking up the phone and making a call lets people know that you care.”
For the callers, HUGS is a ministry, one that allows them to truly give to other members. Chenault said the calls go along with “presence” in the Methodist pledge of “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.”
“Presence doesn’t have to be face-to-face,” she said. “Presence is reaching out to someone. It’s what we’re called to do as Christians.”
HUGS is a ministry that any church can try – and a simple ring from someone who cares can brighten anyone’s day.