Living and Learning Together

Bearing witness during this season of COVID-19 at Capital Christian Fellowship

Paris Rossiter and his wife Akeia and children worship at Capital Christian Fellowship in Lanham, MD.

by Paris Rossiter

In Psalm 133:1-2, it says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” Community provides one of the central values of our faith as Christians. Therefore, we need unity as a common thread in our life together. Although we are subject to this season’s endless news cycles and social media arguments, which highlight division, strife, and unrest, Christ-followers bear witness to a better way with miracles in our midst.  

As I reflect on the massive disruption caused by the arrival and spread of COVID-19, I consider it nothing short of miraculous that despite sickness on a historic scale, stay-at-home orders, crippling layoffs, travel bans, supply chain interruptions, and significant bouts of civil unrest, God’s people continue to intentionally live and serve together in unity. We learned to do this in new, creative, innovative, socially responsible, and spiritually robust ways. 

The food pantry becomes mobile with a move outside.

This way of living together requires a high level of prayer, input, investment, and unifying thought from all of God’s children regardless of age, culture, national origin, socio-economic status, physical location, or factors that may in other ways separate us. We are experiencing a season that certainly challenges us, but also has the potential to bring a deep connection and sense of shared understanding among brothers and sisters of diverse populations. We are going through this together. Among the many changes, there are two areas of our community that I want to specifically highlight: our food pantry and the digital landscape.

In late March of 2020, the State of Maryland ordered, “No Maryland resident should be leaving their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason, such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking urgent medical attention, or for other necessary purposes.” This order affected every person in our entire state and was a shared experience among millions of people in our region. When several brothers and sisters in our faith community contracted COVID-19, the order took on personal significance. This alarming and tragic circumstance heightened the awareness of Capital Christian Fellowship and inspired our pastoral staff to take immediate action. 

A volunteer hands a box of food to a family in the drive-through food pantry.

With input from the executive board and in consultation with leaders in the congregation, our leaders began to examine the ways we were connecting with each other and the services we offered. They felt the need to be intentional and specific about the services we offered from both a community and a regulatory perspective. The pastoral staff then instituted methods to draw us closer together during a time when we were required to stay physically apart. The food pantry was one place change tool place. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our congregation operated a food pantry that was open one day a week. When started, the families who came to the food pantry shopped the shelves for themselves. Our partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank required our volunteers to travel to Washington DC to pick up food once every couple of weeks. The pantry served 125 to 150 families per month. We praise God for the connection the food pantry provided to our local families and to the birth of partnerships with community organizations. 

During the month of November 2020 with the pandemic in full throttle, the Food Pantry was open twice each week (100% increase) and served over 1,500 local families (900% increase) who are currently experiencing food insecurity.

The personal shopping stopped, and we created a drive-up system for food delivery. In addition, the Capital Area Food Bank began making deliveries directly to Capital Christian Fellowship. This essential service caught the attention of local elected officials who sometimes provide donations of hot meals to pantry guests during food pickup hours.

Packed food boxes ready for distribution.

The families served by the pantry reflect the beautiful diversity of our surrounding community. Anyone who chooses gets an opportunity to serve during a time when it is most needed. Despite the requirement to use personal protection equipment, volunteerism significantly increased, including, those under 10 years old and those over 60. This multi-ethnic, multi-generational, dedicated group of people has been a weekly reflection of God’s blessings and provision to every person who visits the pantry, and its expansion increases the reach of God’s goodness and grace into households throughout our county.

The second focus, the digital landscape, also changed dramatically over the course of the last year. The use of non-physical connection tools increased and new methods of communication emerged. This would be true if I was only referencing the Sunday morning worship service, but other areas changed as well.

An area many became nimble and adaptive was the realm of virtual meeting and instruction. Nearly every demographic needed to learn how to adjust their personal environment to the use of virtual meeting, teaching and learning.

All of us became both student and teacher in some capacity. I’ll never forget our congregation’s first virtual Men’s Meeting during the early days of the pandemic. The conversation was dominated by the common experiences of learning how to work virtually and how to adjust schedules to effectively support children and youth. The majority of the time was spent encouraging one another, laughing at shared feelings and experiences, and bonding over this struggle that we were all going through together. Whether it was online school or a virtual birthday party, we all had to do something we had never done before.

Volunteers working at the outdoor food pantry.

As the weeks and months stretched on, some of those Men’s Meeting conversations shifted to how to maintain physical fitness while staying at home, how to deal with the emotional and relational strain of a job loss, and how to prepare to re-enter the workforce. The digital landscape played into each of these conversations, and the fact that God’s people, the church, made such a drastic transition to engage in these life-changing conversations was a blessing and a miracle to many in our community. Virtual prayer nights, Zoom Bible studies, and Facebook Live game nights continue to connect people all over the world in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

The enemy who seeks to sow division among us today is working hard to keep us apart, frustrated, and angry with one another. He knows that a house divided against itself will fall. He knows that when we come together in a spirit of community, we will “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). 

A screenshot from the virtual Men’s meeting on Zoom.

Yes, things have changed this year. A lot of things have changed. I pray that these changes allow us to adapt and see with new eyes and a renewed vision. I pray we will see the depth of unity that is possible when we embrace the diversity with which God has so richly blessed us. I pray we choose to seek God’s face and God’s will as we journey forward. 

I venture to say that we, as a church body, have more shared experiences today than we did one year ago. We have learned so much together. Let us recognize and seize the opportunities in front of us. Let’s not fall back into old divisions, and let’s continue to find ways to connect with one another in new, God-honoring, and spiritually fruitful ways.♦

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