Disconnected is the word usually used to characterize the pandemic experience. It may indeed be the reality for most people.
The congregation of Golden Gate All Nations (GGAN) in Naples, Florida, United States, is a noteworthy exception. Their experience has been dramatically different, with “connected” being the overwhelming response. The theme United through Fellowship, Worship, and Discipleship “came into action when the doors of the church were officially closed,” Dolphy Cross, the Golden Gate pastor whose leadership extends to three other churches, said.
God Had Other Plans
On that day in March 2020, when the confirmation of the strength of COVID-19 turned a planned post-worship fellowship luncheon into a “Grab ’n Go” boxed lunch, the path was set.
“The enemy planned to close this church, but God had other plans,” church clerk Catherine James-Bell said, as she marshaled forces. Virtual church on Zoom and YouTube became the standard for two years. She sourced support for the worship services from church elders and members for Sabbath School, worship music, and occasionally the spoken Word as Pastor Cross ministered to his other churches.
For additional interest, James-Bell reached out to friends and relatives in her native St. Lucia, in Trinidad and Tobago, and other countries in the Caribbean, exposing GGAN to a variety of worship experiences, while expanding the reach of the GGAN church through external bonding.
Church activities continued during the week as the conference phone line was employed for call-in Wednesday-night prayer meetings. On Friday evenings, with Hidy Matthew, Adventist Youth leader, as host, members gathered virtually for the evening service to welcome the Sabbath and to celebrate the survival of another week.
Important features of the Wednesday and Friday evening sessions were the testimonies that members shared to encourage each other through the manifestation of God in their lives. They were accompanied by requests for prayer that covered those members, relatives, and even neighbors afflicted with COVID-19 or other illnesses.
Another feature was the spoken Word delivered by a church member, transforming many into lay preachers, a clear example of the power of the priesthood of believers. When one of the GGAN stalwarts passed away in the pre-vaccine height of the pandemic, James-Bell organized a drive-by farewell. There were also drive-by birthday celebrations with drop-off gifts: two for treasured seniors, one for a five-year-old.
Support from Departments
The health ministry off GGCN, headed by emergency department physician Patricia Gardner and a team of committed nurses, became central in providing up-to-date information on the pandemic and its devastation throughout the country and the world. The church relied on this active department for reliable information with respect to vaccines, masking, self-protection, and home care of families. More importantly, they established strict protocols for safeguarding the health of members as the church reopened — first, cautiously, then with full reopening on March 5, 2022.
Other ministries used the Zoom platform and teleconferencing facilities to present programs. Through Wednesday evening telephone meetings, the education ministry kept a supportive rein on the activities of the youth, especially those who were away at university. Women’s ministries conducted a “Tell the Truth” series on Zoom, inviting nationally acclaimed speakers to provide critical information on issues of particular relevance in this dangerous post-truth era.
Furthering the agenda of keeping connected, men’s ministries continued its “Know Your Neighbor” series of interviews designed to help members get to know more about each other. Men also got together on a 5:30 a.m. phone call to stay connected and support and pray for each other and for the entire church, which had by then become a close-knit family. During November, the Community Services department collected turkeys to continue its annual turkey distribution at Thanksgiving time.
Even as the sting of COVID-19 appears to wane, God has continued to pour out His blessings. Members unable to navigate online giving have been helped by a personalized pick-up service from John Bell, head deacon. The church has experienced a steady increase in membership, along with tithes and offerings.
In celebration of the opportunity to stay in touch visually and audibly, Cross said he praises God “for the faithfulness of the members who remained undaunted, steadfast, and true to God. We all fully embrace the unwritten motto that has now become the written motto: ‘United through Fellowship, Worship, and Discipleship.’ To God be the glory!”