April 29, 2020

In US Virgin Islands, Adventist Church Ramps Up Help to Its Senior Members

Royston Philbert, Inter-American Division News

Church leaders at the Christiansted Adventist church in St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands, recently took measures to assist the 90 percent of its members who are senior citizens in coping with the isolation measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“We established what we called the ‘COVID-19 Task Force,’ which was among the requirements sent to each congregation by the president of the North Caribbean Conference, to have each church establish a task force to study and determine how best to meet the needs of the members,” said Earl Daniel, pastor of the Christiansted Adventist church. With social and spiritual interactions thwarted, Daniel said, it took some intentional planning to create ministry models to reach every member of the church.

“This is a very fluid situation, but God has blessed the church with leaders who are in tune with the times and sensitive to the needs of the people they serve,” he added.

Church members received care packages, delivered on March 18, 2020, containing hand sanitizer, a thermometer, a hand-washing guide, a medication tracker, and an emergency contact list. The task force also paired seniors with young people and other members who had been trained to safely engage the most vulnerable members and run errands for them and help with other tasks.

“Many of the persons we serve are members who embraced Adventism in its infancy on the island of St. Croix,” said first elder Horace Graham. “We are cognizant of our demographic and are determined to support them with ministries and initiatives that will keep them safe while remaining fully connected to the life of the church.” Graham explained that for many of them, the weekly gatherings of the church are the primary social interaction they receive.

Task force members trained Sabbath school teachers on how to use a conference call system to convene for weekly classes. They also placed church members on group text messages, and the elderly members were set up with email accounts so they could receive the church’s newsletter and other church communication. In addition, the pastor has been recording weekly messages that he sends to members’ cell phones, while tech-savvy members ensure that seniors’ devices can access YouTube and Facebook for Sabbath services.

“We sought to develop a system to ensure they remain connected to the community of faith that they were so accustomed to interacting with,” Graham said. “The church has the greatest potential to lose because we are the highest at risk and need to be sure that we can deliver membership care to them.”

The ministry is all-embracing, Daniel said. Assigned church members from the special task force keep track of the members’ needs, and they deliver groceries and other necessities to older adults and those who are not able to leave their homes. “To alleviate loneliness, young families and individuals who are homebound create a sense of community across generational lines through regular phone calls and safe interactions,” Daniel said.

Meanwhile, Daniel’s daily itinerary has not changed. He continues to visit and reach out to members. “I put myself in the shoes of my congregants who have lost jobs already or are afraid of losing their jobs,” he said. “I encourage members to find space inside their homes to worship God intimately and individually, even as gathering together has become impossible.”

Daniel also prays with members every day. “I tell them to pray fervently to God every day,” he said.

Thanks to the church’s task force, the church has accounted for 100 percent of its active membership, which is composed currently of 120 people.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.