Congregants traditionally look to religious leaders to provide comfort and to help guide them in their search for better spiritual understanding.
That’s why it was interesting to have some of the religious leaders in town share their own insights in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monsignor Clement Connolly, spiritual adviser at Holy Family Catholic Church, said he only has to take his dog on a walk to see why he should be even more grateful during these times.
“I see people doing things, dining outside. People think: ‘If only we had what we had.’” he said. “We should get down on our knees and be thankful.
“We should never complain about the trivial. We have no idea in normal times how much we have. Now it is gone and we never thought about it.”
The Rev. Sam Park, lead pastor of ReNew United Methodist Church on Monterey Road, said he indeed does realize what he is missing since in-person services ended in March.
“A large reason why I was led to pastoral ministry was the personal interaction that I get to have in local church ministry,” Park said. “Even my preaching/teaching style lends itself more to interactive engagement with the congregation. I miss my congregation members! I love seeing them, hugging them, and laughing and crying with them. Online ministry is genuine ministry and I am grateful that we have it, but it is definitely not as satisfying (personally) for me. I take solace that this is the best we can do for now.
“Not being present with people makes ministry awkward (for me).”
All of the religious leaders admitted that it was hard not being able to hug or console a congregant.
The Rev. Lincoln Skinner of Oneonta Congregational Church on Garfield Avenue has started holding an outdoor service at 9:30 every Sunday, and a lot of planning went into making sure everyone was on the same page in terms of health planning.
“I preached on Acts 2 about the joys of meeting together,” Skinner said of that first service on June 14. “The congregation was very respectful of the safety precautions, but you could sense the bittersweet emotion as we held back the urge to embrace one another, opting for the safer, socially distanced ‘air hug,’ blowing kisses, and holding our hand over our hearts as we exchanged words of encouragement and tearful smiles with one another.”
The Rev. Millason Dailey of Calvary Presbyterian Church on Fremont Avenue pointed out that preaching has always been a small fraction of what a pastor does, but “I miss seeing people’s faces as I am preaching.”
“What I do miss is standing shoulder to shoulder with others,” she said. “Certainly, we are still a community of believers and nothing will ever change that, but being able to physically stand shoulder to shoulder with someone is a physical reminder of an invisible reality. I really miss that subtlety.”
Dailey said her ministry continues to consist of being with people “in their darkest moments, hearing about their personal struggles and encouraging them to serve God and others in new and interesting ways.
“I am still doing all of those things — whether it be by phone, email, text or Zoom,” she said.
Park said that “it is my prayer that I find innovative ways to bring care.”
The pandemic has “thrust me deeper into my faith and faith practices such as prayer,” he said. “The present needs are so obvious and they are global. It has also made me innovate in ministry and it has been a growth opportunity for me personally. Moreover, it has reinforced for me the absolute necessity of ministry since so many are in need of it.”
Skinner said that since the groundwork was set for new kinds of services, he has found more time for prayer, personal relationships, creative development and self-care.
“Change is hard, but necessary for growth and rejuvenation in any church family,” Skinner said. “God has used the COVID-19 situation to slow us all down and help us rediscover what is most important in God’s kingdom, which is love.”
Connolly said the pandemic has created what he called a “major interruption of normal.”
“In a hospital, priests are not able to see their parishioners,” he said, “but it is nothing compared to what first responders are going through.
“I’m looking for the teaching that comes with these times. ‘What would the Lord say?’ I want to find meaning. So I call people who are housebound — I have about 30 people that I call regularly.
“We have an opportunity to touch in unusual ways. This is an invitation in unusual times.”
Connolly talked about not being able to lay hands on people, but having nurses putting the phone up to the ear of patients and how remote that is. He said that normally he would have the whole family lay hands on a person and then have them individually whisper in their ear what they wanted the dying person to know.
“It was never ‘Thank you for making a million dollars.’ It was ‘Thank you for understanding. Thank you for taking time to take me to the ballgames. Thank you for putting up with me.’
“These are all reminders of the good times, and we should be grateful for them.”
Churches Feed the Hungry in Time of COVID
There is a lawn area just south of Calvary Presbyterian Church on Fremont Avenue that was the site of a very cute mini-library where people could take or leave books.
Charity has begotten charity during the current COVID pandemic.
“We converted our birdhouse library into a mini food bank and it has been truly amazing,” said the Rev. Millason Dailey. “People from throughout the South Pasadena community are routinely putting food inside. [Donors are] not just Calvary members, and the food is there for anyone who is hungry to take.”
Calvary Presbyterian’s innovative means of providing help to others has been reflected by other South Pasadena churches, which have made a special effort to help others during this time of need.
Dailey said her church received one of only two grants from her denomination’s synod — which covers all of Southern California and Hawaii — for creative hunger ministry. Calvary is partnering with small local restaurants, which cater meals, and the church picks up expenses through the grant.
“And again, it’s just like the mini food bank. People have heard what we are doing and want to participate by designating money to the cause. We have other really fun and creative opportunities to relieve hunger coming up in the near future.”
Soon after it became apparent that the pandemic would be a longer-term issue, several members of ReNew United Methodist Church on Monterey Road provided funding for a “benevolence fund.” The fund is now used to provide groceries and other essential supplies for those connected to the community who are in need, according to the Rev. Sam Park, ReNew’s lead pastor.
Park said that on a more global level, his church is now partnering with a network of churches in Africa to provide relief from the economic devastation they are experiencing. Park explained the program is more personal than other better-known efforts, since a sponsor would be sponsoring an individual family.
Park said the biggest issue for his “struggling members” is actually the emotional and social disconnection they are experiencing.
“We are trying to connect with them the best we can through phone calls and virtual meetings,” he said.
The Community Giving Bank, a ministry of Holy Family Catholic Church, on Fremont Avenue, continues to take a leadership role in helping the needy in South Pasadena and the surrounding area.
Director Marlene Moore said there has been a steady increase in the number of people being served by the food bank since the pandemic hit in March.
Moore said the resource is currently serving 200 families and grass-roots charitable organizations throughout the area. The sign just outside the building housing the bank reads “How Can We Help You?”
“In June, we accepted 28,000 pounds of food from a group called From Farmers to Families,” Moore said. “We reached out and gave to various churches and other organizations. We also accepted 4,400 pounds of fresh produce from Knights of Malta and continue to do so.”
Moore noted that the Community Giving Bank is not accepting clothing or other items.
“Everyone has a mask and it is non-contact,” said Moore, who added that this process goes on throughout the week. “Someone drives up, calls to let us know they are there and they pop the trunk and we load the items.”
The bank has increased its hours. Moore said that on a Monday, the busiest day of the week, it can feed 200 families — an increase of 75-80 families since the pandemic began. The bank is also working with local fire and police to serve people in the streets.
“This is a case of the community coming together to help each other and to help others,” Moore said.
“We have seen people from all walks of life come in for support. Many people who have been furloughed or who have lost their jobs need now need to come to the food bank.”
— Andy Lippman