By: Christa Meland
June Collman, a lifelong member of Cromwell UMC, decided to join Facebook this spring to keep in contact with friends, family, and fellow church members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
She immediately started sharing Cromwell’s worship services on her Facebook page in hopes they would reach people in her life and grow their faith, and in doing so, she rekindled her relationship with a niece she’d lost touch with and brought two people into the church’s fold.
“I’m hoping it fulfills their life, that their spiritual journey would be enriched as mine has been and they find meaning,” said Collman, 83.
Both Collman’s adult niece and a cousin she’s never met started watching the worship services she shared, and both have found them to be a source of comfort and peace. Collman’s niece comments on her posts every week and has told her they’ve made a difference in her life. The two recently enjoyed their first in-person visit in many years.
This is just one example of how Cromwell UMC and Moose Lake UMC, a two-point charge about 40 miles south of Duluth, are expanding their reach in this season of quarantine. Neither congregation has met for in-person worship since March, but Rev. Roger Parrish-Siggelkow, who pastors both churches, and Marnie Parrish-Siggelkow, director of spiritual care and formation at Moose Lake, have been offering a single online worship service via Facebook for both congregations during that period. Initially they were live, and now they are pre-recorded.
Services are short and “home-spun” as Roger likes to say—an introduction, a song or two, and a 10- to 12-minute sermon. While providing high-quality music in an online venue is intimidating for some smaller congregations, it’s an area where the Parrish-Siggelkows excel: Both are singers and songwriters who have produced multiple albums for kids, and their own adult children (who occasionally make guest appearances) are musicians as well.
The simple services are effective in drawing people in: Whereas the Cromwell and Moose Lake churches had average in-person attendance of maybe 40 combined before COVID-19, online services are garnering between 300 and 900 views weekly, with around 1,000 tuning in on Easter.
“People are hungry for authenticity,” said Roger, who has been preaching a series on “Hope for Troubled Times.” “It’s been more of an evangelistic ministry in recent months.”
A month ago, Roger received a card from a college friend he hadn’t seen in 30 years. She told him she had been so enjoying the series and shared a particular message and song that stuck with her. She included $50 and a rock from Lake Superior with the word “hope” on it.
The Cromwell and Moose Lake churches have been facilitating meaningful connections in other ways too.
At the beginning of this year, prior to the pandemic, Marnie led a book study around Joyce Rupp’s “Boundless Compassion.” Participants included those from Moose Lake UMC as well as women from a community walking group Marnie was part of. After one participant’s husband died during the pandemic, she told Marnie how significant the study had been to her and said she was interested in a new way to connect with others. So each month since September, Marnie has hosted an additional book study around the theme of cultivating hope; the first one was socially distanced outdoors and more recent gatherings have been virtual. The woman has not only participated in the book studies but now tunes into online worship services as well.
“This has been a vital part of her healing,” said Marnie. “It’s been an important way for her to feel grounded and connected to God and each of us. It’s been an opportunity to deepen her faith and feed her soul.”
Roger and Marnie are convinced that it doesn’t take a big church or a flashy service to reach people and impact their lives—and they are proof of that.
“I hope we are stirring hope in others so that others might pass it on,” said Roger. “And it isn’t through doing some grandiose thing; it’s by being faithful to do the small thing.” He points to author and theologian Frederick Buechner’s quote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
Marnie’s hope: “that people feel that deep sense of connection with God, with themselves, with one another, despite the fact that we’re all apart.”
She adapted Howard Thurman’s poem “I Will Light Candles This Christmas” (changing “Christmas” to “Year”) and has allowed it to guide her during this pandemic season:
“I will light candles this year,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church