How three area churches have helped the hurting during the pandemic.
Historically, in times of crisis, people often turn to a church for help or support, whether it be for basics like food and shelter or for counsel and care. So that begs the question, with the COVID-19 job upheaval affecting financial security for many and isolation creating mental health issues, were the churches in our area called on for help? Leaders at three local churches answered some questions about how they’ve responded to their communities during this crisis: Calvary Church, St. Mary of the Lake and St. John in the Wilderness.
What was your initial response to the pandemic?
Calvary Church (CC): We took a proactive approach. We realized early on our senior adults were most isolated and therefore most at risk. Our senior adults pastor organized a calling tree to contact 500+ seniors and check in on them regularly—weekly at first when isolation was at its worst. The plus side of this is that friendships were formed across age groups that might not have happened organically. —Pastor Mike Graham, White Bear Lake campus pastor
St. Mary of the Lake (SML): We started calling campaigns to check in with our people, starting with the senior adults and then getting to everyone in our parish eventually. We actually found that our older adults, who were in community living, fared well because they had the most embedded support. And as St. Mary’s staff wasn’t allowed in the residences to minister to them, our parishioners, who lived in those buildings, were able to distribute Communion to their neighbors, so they weren’t as isolated as many of our families and young, single adults. Over time, we learned that our young people were hurting most in terms of mental health. —Mary Beth Jambor, director of sacraments and worship
St. John in the Wilderness (SJW): All churches are struggling with trying to keep people safe yet give them the community they crave. We started doing outdoor services when we returned to meeting in person in the fall of 2020 and continued into December with outdoor fire pits, etc. People wanted to be in community so bad they came no matter how cold it was! That’s one thing we’ve really seen during COVID, is people’s desire to be in community. —Father Art Hancock, rector
Have you seen increased needs for assistance? If so, how have you responded to it?
CC: We put together an online form with ways people could give, so when requests came in, we would be ready. Then we mobilized our benevolence funds by giving to organizations in our community that are already set up to assist instantly, like Every Meal and Urban Homeworks. We also gave to the White Bear Area Food Shelf multiple times. Requests for assistance were up 15–20 percent for help with rent, car repairs, food … and we’ve been able to meet the needs because of giving within our congregation.
Then in December 2020, we put together “Boxes for Hope” with a Target gift card, coffee, a handmade mug and some cookies, all sourced from local businesses to support them. It was a simple way for people in our congregation to encourage someone who might need it, and we had a really positive response. We ended up giving boxes to the entire staff at The Tavern Grill in Arden Hills, as the waitstaff was hit hard (like everyone in the hospitality industry). We also brought boxes to 75 police officers in the city of Roseville, and they were really encouraged by the gesture. It was received so well that we will do Boxes for Hope again in 2022. —Pastor Ben Tyvoll, engagement pastor
SML: We always have a need for financial assistance from people in our parish, and we were prepared for and expecting an increase in requests, but there wasn’t the increase we thought there would be. We anticipate an increase in assistance requests due to the change in unemployment (in September), but we are more than ready for it. —Mary Beth Jambor
SJW: One of the struggles we had was how to be the hands and heart of Christ in the community with all these social distancing limitations. We continue to support the White Bear Area Food Shelf, give to the Red Cross and we give to organizations that are already set up to support people in the community. We were prepared to ask staff to reduce hours if we needed to, but our giving has remained strong, so we have not needed to adjust staff hours.
—Father Art Hancock
What has surprised you over the last two years?
CC: Our ability to pivot to meet socialization needs while social distancing. We were blown away by the response to a drive-thru Christmas event we did with two other area churches in December of 2020. We had over 600 cars (1,200–1,500 people) drive through the three parking lots to view live actors in scenes telling the Christmas story. People were able to be in community yet safely interact. Another surprise is that we’ve not seen an increase in requests for mental health counseling—that’s always a need and hasn’t been any higher during the pandemic. —Pastor Mike Graham
SML: Right in the very beginning when everything shut down, people couldn’t gather, people craved opportunities for prayer. Since the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was closed, we displayed the Blessed Sacrament all day at a window where anyone could come and pray. Some people would even bring a lawn chair to sit in while they prayed. It was a surprising sign of hope! Usually, praying before the Blessed Sacrament is a private prayer time. Now everyone could see and know others were praying. It was a visible sign of our communal faith and hope. —Mary Beth Jambor
SJW: We’ve all missed doing things like baptisms. We couldn’t do these at all when COVID first hit, and it was such a loss for everyone in our congregation. Then in July of 2021 during our very first baptism, a woman snapped a picture of her 2-year-old nephew that is just precious. He has such joy on his face! For me, it encapsulates the church coming alive again. —Father Art Hancock