The government may have done the seemingly unheard of – directing churches to stop having services because of the number of people that attend – but that hasn't stopped congregations from getting together, albeit in different ways.
With the mandate in place, and with the Easter holiday not to be missed, churches all over the area went forward with creative ways to connect with communities. One such congregation, Southaven First United Methodist Church on Starlanding Road, has found a way to reach out to people even though the church itself was closed to gatherings.
The church has in place several ways of connecting with not only their members but also to everyone who follows them on Facebook. Plus, Pastor Sam Burton holds a daily “phone tree” with every congregant as a means of providing information and news so that everyone is kept informed.
Recently, members Janis Lacey and Ruth Williams-Hooker wanted to do something more than just a regular, and what became an impossible Easter service. The two ladies decided to start collecting donations and money in order to fill grocery bags with items that could be handed out to people on Saturday, April 11.
Donations from church members included plastic eggs with candy, tiny toys, and zip-lock bags of dog treats. Cash was also received – as much as $800 – to help purchase items. Along with those items, each bag included either tea or coffee and non-food items like toilet paper, paper towels, and aluminum foil.
“We wanted to make sure everyone got a variety of items in their bag and we also included a nutrition guide, a coloring activity book for kids, canned chicken or fish, vegetables, pasta, chips, popcorn, jello or pudding cups and ready-to-prepare breakfast items,” noted Williams-Hooker.
Flyers were posted in area stores, gas stations, beverage stores, and online inviting the public to participate. Several of the cars in line to receive a bag were actually from Memphis. About 125 vehicles – from all over Desoto County and elsewhere, all came to be a part of the activity.
“We're happy to reach out to the community this Easter and show them the love of Christ through friendship, especially during this stressful time of having to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 virus,” Burton said.
Vehicles were lined up along the road starting at 8:30 a.m. that morning for the 10 a.m. opening. Southaven Police were at the site to help manage the traffic and congestion.
“It was much more successful than we planned for,” according to Willams-Hooker. “In hindsight, we probably should have had closer to 150 or more bags to give out to people.”
The church did as much as they could, using the resources they collected over the past two weeks and they were assisted by Boy Scouts Troop 349, who helped hand out the bags.
“Next time,” said Williams-Hooker, “we'll know to have more than enough since we had to turn quite a few cars away.”
A total of 81 filled gift bags were received by the grateful public.
The gesture of the membership of Southaven First United Methodist Church's 60 members was significant in connecting with the public and, according to Willams-Hooker, “we're hoping that folks will get to know us, know where we are and will come back and attend services, once this (COVID-19 virus) is over.”