Three Churches One Ministry

Three Churches One Ministry

While the COVID-19 pandemic has mostly kept us apart from each other, God has used this time of separation and isolation to bring his people from three separate churches together. Trinity, Zion, and Immanuel Lutheran churches are located a little more than two and a half miles from each other and yet rarely worked together

When COVID-19 swept through Schenectady, it was clear that no church could go it alone.


Marcy Steiner, President Zion Lutheran

Pastor Patrick Singh, Trinity Lutheran Church

Pastor Matthew Schultz, Immanuel Lutheran Church

Challenge #1: What about worship?

Unable to gather for weekly worship, the churches were left to scramble for solutions.

“I was in disarray,” said Pastor Singh. “How would I do worship?”

Down the road at Zion, there was another challenge. Zion has been vacant since October 2019. While they have a highly capable interim, Pastor Chip Froehlich, he lives in Virginia. Pastor Chip had been making regular visits to Zion to conduct worship and help them start the call process, but with the pandemic lockdowns, he was unable to travel.

Pastor Schultz at Immanuel had been streaming his Sunday sermons on Facebook Live, but putting out an at-home online service was a lot more complicated than tapping “Go Live” on a cellphone.

Instead of struggling apart, they came together.

Zion had ready-to-use technology solutions for recording and distributing services. Marcy put together a preaching rotation that included Pastor Schultz, Pastor Singh and Pastor Froehlich who emailed services from Virginia.

Pastor Schultz tapped into Zion’s knowledgeable tech team for ideas about how to streamline the process for making weekly services were recorded and uploaded, allowing him to send emails with the links to the recorded services.

Pastor Singh assembled a team at Trinity and after a couple of weeks of training from Pastor Schultz, they were able to put their weekly service out to their people.

Beyond sharing technology know-how, the pastoral leadership from all three churches meet weekly over Zoom to develop one message for the coming Sunday. Zion incorporates the message into a full-length, traditional service; Immanuel’s service is an abbreviated service recorded in Pastor Schultz’s living room; and Trinity delivers the message in its recorded contemporary service. All three services are sent to members of all three churches so members can choose how to worship on Sunday morning.

“Working together lets us share one message with all three churches,” said Pastor Schultz. “You can attend any of the online services and hear the same basic message with each pastor’s unique perspective.”

Challenge #2: How do we care for the community?

It wasn’t long before everyone realized that COVID-19 would disrupt people’s economies, not just pose a threat to their health. Schenectady was not spared the wave of furloughs and unemployment that swept over the rest of the state and the country. Families from all three churches and the unchurched community lost jobs and were looking for help.

The Three-Church fund was born. Pastor Singh administers the program and hands out gift cards to grocery and other local stores to anyone who rings the church bell. To date, members from Zion, Trinity and Immanuel have donated around $15,000 that has helped families keep food on the table and helped with other necessities.

Pastor Singh also provides care ministry for all three churches, calling and visiting anyone who needs prayer. He has driven all across Schenectady County and beyond to meet with anyone who calls.

“I’ve met people in parking lots and prayed with them from a distance,” he said. “I’ve stood on the sidewalk and prayed with someone who is standing on their porch. If you call me at one in the morning, I’ll be there.”

Before the pandemic, Zion had opened its doors to a local ministry called Street Soldiers, who used its facility to feed the homeless. During COVID-19, not only has the ministry grown, but members from Zion have gotten involved with the ministry by baking cookies and helping with distribution.

“People are stepping up,” said Marcy Steiner. “They are sharing their gifts and talents. All gifts aren’t the same but you need them all.”

Challenge #3: How do we handle the next chapter?

It’s one thing to band together in a crisis to feed people and pray with them and set up video production studios in your living room to continue to share God’s message. At some point there will be a vaccine; there will be a treatment. But don’t look for Zion, Trinity, and Immanuel to retreat to their corners and go it alone.

“This has been incredibly grace-filled,” said Steiner. “The Holy Spirit has been here and the Lord is calling us into the community and back to what church is supposed to be. Into the future we have three churches that God is calling to be a presence in the community. He’s calling us to work together.

Pastor Singh agrees.

“We were all caught unaware,” he said. “But God works in ways you’ll never understand. It’s like he is pushing the three churches together.”

“Going forward we’re going with the mindset of ‘what happens to one church happens to all of us,’ ” said Pastor Schultz.

Whether it’s putting Bible studies together for distribution to all three churches or continuing to collaborate on sermons or creating a cohesive care ministry, Zion, Trinity, and Immanuel will continue to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading to be three churches with one ministry: share the Gospel of Jesus.

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