(PNS) — For Cameron Presbyterian Church and Calvary Presbyterian Church, both in Statesville, North Carolina, accepting the Matthew 25 invitation was not a difficult decision. When presented with information about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s invitation by Salem Presbytery, the Rev. Timothy L. Bates, pastor of the two churches, says both congregations saw it as a great opportunity to join other Presbyterian churches in the endeavor.
“But the main reason we an accepted the invitation is that we wanted to answer the call and become more intentional in lining up with the Matthew 25 mission,” he said. “As a church we are focused on all three areas, but mainly the area of building congregation vitality. When COVID-19 hit, we looked for creative ways to become a more vital church, so we decided to become strategic with our outreach ministries.”
Bates says church members were challenged to be prayerful in asking God how they could become more involved. He says they challenged each other to discern how God was speaking to them during the pandemic.
“We asked, ‘What is God calling us to do in a crisis?’” he said. “We decided that this was an opportunity to joyfully serve God and community in a different way.”
Both Cameron and Calvary have about 70 members and both congregations exemplify the importance of congregational vitality.
The two churches work in collaboration with each other and both churches work in collaboration with a prayer and street ministry that Bates started called the “Nightcrawlers.” Additional local community partnerships include their work with Fifth Street Ministries, the Statesville Police Department, Iredell-Statesville Schools, and the Summit retirement village.
According to Bates, since the pandemic the congregations have continued worship in an outdoor worship service. They call the service “park and praise.”
“Many of the members have increased their involvement in the churches’ ministries, including our youth,” said Bates. “They joyfully serve as ushers and help set up and take down the equipment needed. Family members use their talents on social media platforms and assist seniors with the process.”
Bates says the churches have been renewed and uplifted through service and have started new ministries during this time.
The congregations formed an elder and deacon call list where elders and deacons make weekly calls and pray with members. They have started a preschool for four children of church members and they have established a food pantry and clothes giveaway ministry that distributes items to the community. They offer food boxes on a weekly basis and during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and they have started a ministry that shares water with all in need.
Excitement around the congregations’ newfound ministries is permeating beyond the membership. “Amens and the blowing of horns has caused the neighborhoods to join in with the praise from their homes,” said Bates. “New members have joined the church and membership has increased through social media platform. New relationships are being formed on the weekly prayer calls.”
“The spirit of both churches is at an all-time high,” Bates says. “Our choir participation has increased, the giving of tithes and offering has increased by members who didn’t give before, and more members are involved in serving communion as well as participating during the Sunday services. The members are excited to serve.”
The congregations are now providing school supplies and toiletries for children experiencing homelessness as well as teachers and other children within their communities. They provide financial assistance to families in need during the COVID crisis.
In addition to addressing the spiritual needs of their communities, Cameron’s and Calvary’s congregations are addressing justice and health needs through their advocacy efforts.
“We marched, prayed and sang in a neighborhood in which a seven-year-old was killed in a drive-by shooting,” said Bates. “We actively supply information on voting and assisting the community to get out and vote. Additionally, we share information on the importance of taking the COVID vaccine and have partnered with the North Carolina Minority Health Advisory Council to distribute information about the importance of the vaccine to underserve communities.”
In addressing the dismantling structural racism Matthew 25 focus, the congregations are participating in race relations forums and workshops to promote positive relationships.
“These are some of the ministries in which we are involved in to carry out our Matthew 25 responsibilities,” Bates said. “It is a great pleasure to be a part of the Matthew 25 community as we observe the great work that is taking place throughout our denomination.”
by Gail Strange, Presbyterian News Service
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