Hardship Brings Opportunity at Redeemer in the Bronx

Hardship Brings Opportunity at Redeemer in the Bronx

When COVID-19 hit The Bronx in March 2020, The Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor, Deaconess Raquel A. Rojas and their congregation at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in The Bronx rose to the challenge. It was a straightforward transition because, as Pastor Taylor states, “There is a certain resilience that we have as Christians that helps us in hard times. We are wired in Christ to deal with all that a hard time may bring to us. It is not foreign for us to call on Him in that time.” The question he had to answer was HOW to continue to reinforce that truth as he ministered to his people through sickness and grief, when the physical building had to be closed for large gatherings and in-person ministry was restricted.

Just as many of the congregations in the Atlantic District did, as well as hundreds of churches across the county, Rev. Taylor took many services to the digital world. Doing so meant sharpening his preaching so he could proclaim the Word even more succinctly and clearly to his listening and watching members as digital presentations do not allow for the same timing and nuances that are part of delivering messages to people gathered in-person. He knew it also meant adding more opportunities for worship so that the sense of community his congregation had worked hard to foster would not be lost because there was no time or space for them to be together in the way they were accustomed. It also meant he would be preaching to a entirely new set of people, as his preaching and teaching would now be outside of the building when they conducted worship services outside the church building, in the living rooms of people who have family members who had never been in a church, or in the staff rooms of hospital workers who tune in during their breaks and invite their coworkers to join them. Pastor Taylor’s sermons were written and preached keeping in mind those whom he could not see face to face yet who never may have heard the Gospel. As a result, his preaching made a different kind of impact on his expanded community, which included passersby walking on the sidewalk, those who would overhear his preaching as they heard his words in their homes, and those who would hear the Word while taking their break from working at the bedsides of patients in hospitals.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape how ministry happens in his congregation. For example, Pastor Taylor discovered that small details such as using candles for windy, outdoor tent services brought a host of issues he and his staff had to address. These challenges also created the opportunity for Pastor Taylor and his staff to think outside the box about how to celebrate milestones like baptisms, confirmations, the reception of new members by transfer, weddings, and funerals in a ways that still allowed those moments to be just as poignant and “normal” as they could.

The pandemic has also opened the time and space to get work done inside the physical building to enhance future worship. “But all of this cannot be THE IT,” Pastor Taylor emphasized. “It may be the elephant in the room, but our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is in His whole creation is bigger than this pandemic and still is saving people. We can answer the ‘how,’ but we cannot get caught up in it. Our focus remains on what He has done and how we can be grateful for that and celebrate that by proclaiming Christ to the world.” How do the members of Redeemer celebrate this? This pandemic has given the members of Redeemer a chance to celebrate the Eucharist with renewed gratitude, complete with a round of applause as part of the Post-Communion Blessing, grateful for every single opportunity we have to receive Christ’s Body and Blood and to “tell everyone what He has done.” That is HOW to celebrate.

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