Lay Leaders Meet the Challenge in Vacancy

Lay Leaders Meet the Challenge in Vacancy

Our Savior’s is located on a quiet street in the Capital Region town of Colonie....When they shut their doors for health and safety reasons last spring, they relied on volunteers and staff to pivot to virtual ministry...

Living and doing ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge to say the least. Churches and members across the district have had to meet any number of new and unseen obstacles to continue to care for and share Jesus at a time when we’ve been advised to not meet, not hug, not hold hands in prayer.

Our Savior’s Church and School not only had to meet the moment but did so in the middle of a vacancy. Yet despite the lack of called pastoral leadership, leaders emerged and stepped up to carry out the church’s mission of sharing Christ through their words and actions.

Our Savior’s is located on a quiet street in the Capital Region town of Colonie. The congregation of 240 baptized members and the school of now 90 students has been without a pastor for two years. When they shut their doors for health and safety reasons last spring, they relied on volunteers and staff to pivot to virtual ministry.

“We’ve seen a lot of people step up in a lot of areas,” said Tom Roemke, head of the ministry coordinating board. Roemke also served as the school’s principal from 1967 until his retirement in 2008.

The first ministry area that needed to be addressed was worship. As it became clear the pandemic was growing, church leadership decided one Saturday to quickly convert to online worship.

“We started live streaming,” said Roemke. “It was an adventure to get that going, but the younger people helped and we were grateful that the Atlantic District provided the Easter Sunday service. The pandemic has in some ways dragged us into the modern era.”

In addition to worship, other ministries and school classes moved from in-person to online, including online Vacation Bible School. Volunteers sent out kits to families so children could do crafts and participate in the story times and music. All in all, 100 children attended the online VBS last year.

As the warmer summer weather took hold, Our Savior’s not only continued streaming services on their Facebook page but also brought back distanced in-person, or more accurately, in-parking lot worship. By the time September rolled around, services were being (and continue to be) held in the school gymnasium. While many members want and are able to return to worship, many cannot, and Roemke along with more than a dozen volunteers are ready to make sure those who are homebound feel cared for.

“We used to have a Senior service and a luncheon on the first Wednesday of the month,” Roemke said. “We have not been able to do that since COVID.”

It has become even more important to Roemke and the people at Our Savior’s to make sure that every member feels connected to the ministry and to other people. A corps of 15 members makes frequent phone calls to those who cannot make it to church.

“We don’t want anyone to fall between the cracks,” Roemke said. “Elders and lay people are reaching out and praying with members. The pandemic has made us more aware that we are a family, and we need to look out for those we don’t see regularly. Our people are more closely connected than before.”

In addition to praying with the homebound, members helped with grocery delivery and transportation to doctor’s visits for those who needed it.

Slowly but surely, things are returning to what will be normal. The church services in the school gym are led by a rotation of pastors and elders. The youth ministry aims to meet in person this spring, and Roemke is planning again for Vacation Bible School, in-person this year, God willing.

Roemke and the elders and leaders and congregational president have worked together to keep ministry going. While they still search for a pastor, Roemke is hopeful that they will have one in place by the time the church and school are fully open.

“We still ache for the lack of a pastor to provide visionary leadership and direction,” he said. “But we have a strong program of Christian education and discipleship for adults.”

Our Savior’s is doing more than just muddling through as they minister during the pandemic and move to call a pastor. Our Savior’s is growing. The church had three adult baptisms just a few months ago.

“Overall, we’ve grown through this,” Roemke said. “This has forced us into using technology. We have developed an awareness of the need to care for one another, and God has raised up lay leadership to volunteer.”

And with God’s grace, those leaders will continue to meet the needs of the moment and the moments to come.

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