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Caring congregations connect in unique ways during COVID-19

By: Janelle Jones, Spearfish UMC; Rev. Mark Tracy, Clark UMC; Rev. Mike Flowers, Spirit Lake Ministry Center


Children on Spirit Lake Nation share the mobiles that they made. The supplies were part of a care package delivered by Pastor Mike and Libby Flowers. Photo courtesy of Mike Flowers.

United Methodists across the Dakotas are not gathering in buildings. Still, they are finding ways to reach out and share the love of God with their neighbors by giving gift cards from local businesses, sewing gifts of masks, serving meals in pretty packages, designing palm parades and playing community Facebook Trivia.

Making a difference in Spearfish, South Dakota: Here are some ways that Spearfish UMC is reaching out to be the hands and feet of Christ: the pastor's discretionary fund, making masks for medical personnel, and the local food pantry. 

Spearfish UMC offers a $25 gift card for those in need to help buy gas, groceries, or medications. The demand is exceptionally high now. This is funded by the pastor's discretionary fund but is administered by three faithful lay persons. They are available each Tuesday and Thursday from 9-11 a.m. Records are kept, following a pattern used by many previous pastors at Spearfish UMC. There is a limit of $150 per person per year. Funds are collected each year at Christmas Eve worship services. Currently, demand far exceeds those donations, so church members donate monthly or periodically. 


Spearfish United Methodist Church, in Spearfish South Dakota.

One recent donation of $1000 was from the yoga group that meets in the church each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, led by Colleen McKirdy. Pastor Scott McKirdy is so appreciative of the laity who see up to 21 clients per session. He feels this is a vital ministry for the Northern Hills area. One of the volunteers pointed out that there is always a great need, not just during this COVID-19 crisis and high unemployment. She stated, "We as a team are the church to most of these people who seek assistance. This is an important part of the mission of the church."

"Every church is seeking ways to serve right now. Sometimes the best way to serve is to see who walks in your door next. Serve them," says Pastor McKirdy.

On a typical Thursday, the Spearfish UMC quilt group would be gathered and sewing prayer quilts, baptism quilts, graduation quilts, and fellowshipping together. Due to the coronavirus, various members of the group are busy at home sewing masks that have been requested by family members. Gloria Borgman of Spearfish United Methodist Church is making face masks to send to her children who work in health care. Many workers face a shortage of basic equipment, including face masks. Numerous patterns are available to make masks, but Gloria advises that you ask the hospital, clinic, or other agency what they specify for donated masks.

In Spearfish, so many home seamstresses have been seeking the elastic for the masks that the limit on each purchase was a five-yard limit. Another Spearfish resident has two children who work in medical fields and need face masks. One of the mothers says, "These masks they receive from me will be used by people who are in less contact with Covid-19 patients while the "real" masks will be used by staff in actual contact with patients." She says, "Let's just be sure to include prayers with every stitch." 

The local food pantry in Spearfish continues to offer food to those in need but faces the additional challenge of having sources to buy what is in short supply. Church members have been asked to personally shop for specific items like 2 lbs. of sugar or flour, pancake mix, syrup, and canned fruit. Then take them to the church or food pantry because supplies are running low. Only one local store is able to fill limited needs for the pantry, which means financial donations aren't always the answer.


Rev. Mike Flowers preaching a recent sermon via Facebook from the Arthur Hall at Spirit Lake Ministry Center.

Care packages at Spirit Lake: The Journey @ Spirit Lake, on the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota, is reaching out to keep the lines of communication open as they deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Pastor Mike and Libby Flowers made care packages for their congregation and Bible study participants to let them know they were remembered and loved.

"We put together boxes of food, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, Sunday school projects, and a homemade heart for their windows," shared Mike and Libby. "It's important to make sure everyone has the necessities to deal with the "stay in place" orders. It also gave us a chance to see that everyone is doing OK. I felt like a teenager as we put the boxes on the porch, knocked on the door and ran! We were able to speak with everyone from afar and see the children through the windows. As we were leaving the housing area, the families we visited first had already put their hearts in the window and waved as we drove by."

Pastor Mike has been videotaping his worship services and midweek studies and posting them on the Spirit Lake Ministry Facebook page. It has been incredible to see the number of people the videos have reached. "We have about 40 congregants, and the last worship video garnered over 170 views," says Pastor Mike.

Supporting local businesses and helping the hungry in Harrisburg: The United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, South Dakota, has decided to give out gift certificates to hungry families to eat at local restaurants. The church will direct folks to the food pantry to get a certificate. Harrisburg UMC is initially putting $1,000 towards the purchase of gift certificates. The gift certificates are a way of helping the hungry and supporting local businesses at the same time.

Pretty packages feed people in Madison: Each Monday at the United Methodist Church in Madison, South Dakota, the congregation serves a meal called The Gathering. Since early March, instead of inviting a guest to come in, be seated at a table, guests receive take-out meals. Each meal is presented in some pretty packaging, to send a message of encouragement and hope. 

Clark Masks

Fabric masks made for the nursing home by the United Methodist Church in Clark, South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Rev. Mark Tracy's Facebook page.

Fostering community, fighting boredom, and helping people in Clark:  The United Methodist Church in Clark, South Dakota, is running go-live trivia contests sponsored by various organizations on the community's Facebook page. Ten times a day, a trivia question is asked live on Facebook. Each winner receives a to-go meal at a local restaurant, plus one to-go meal to give away to someone who cannot leave their home, or without access to technology. The congregation has dedicated $200 each day in free meals.

The sewing group has been mobilized at Clark UMC, upon request of the nursing home, and is making face masks. "They gave us the specifications," says Rev. Mark Tracy, who serves the congregation at Clark. "20 face masks have been made to order and were delivered. Many more are in the pipeline."

At 10 a.m. on Palm Sunday, Clark UMC is taking the lead in organizing the entire community to host online worship via the Clark community Facebook page. The service will also be broadcast on the local cable channel ITC-#152. All the area pastors will bring the message. 

Prayer time, during the service, will be led by community leaders: The school superintendent will lead prayers for students and teachers. The local physician will be praying for healthcare providers and scientists seeking a vaccine. The local police chief will lead in praying for law enforcement and first responders. Clark's local state senator will lead prayer for national, state, and local leaders. The Chamber of Commerce president is going to pray for folks out of work, businesses closed, and the economy.  

At different moments during the service, words will be revealed for a "secret phrase." Everyone participating in the service will consequently know the phrase—"Clark needs Jesus." Participants in the online worship service will be invited to drive downtown, after the service, to pick up drive-by caramel rolls, freshly made by local businesses, and palm branches. View more information for the community Palm Sunday Service on the Clark Community Facebook page.


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