“Hope is never going to be canceled.” That’s the clear message of Rev. Dr. Barrie Tritle, lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in Iowa City. Through its compassionate outreach in the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis and the online worship presence, the congregation is actively sharing that positive assurance
On March 17, he was interviewed by Katie Kay and a colleague from BBC World News. He was asked about the online presence of the church. “It was a great opportunity to share what we're doing here, and to make sure folks are aware of alternatives of how we can be together even though we're physically apart,” Dr. Tritle said.
Click here to listen to the Iowa Conference Conversations podcast with Dr. Barrie Tritle.
He talked about how the interview with the BBC
came about. “Well, there's a young man by the name of Joseph Cress is a writer for The Iowa City Press-Citizen. He came to worship, took a number of pictures, and wrote an excellent story
. It was posted on their website, and, of course, was the front page, the top half of the page. On the next day, that article was seen by the BBC producer who was putting together a list of folks for the team to interview. She went on our Facebook page and watched the entire service. She called our office and then she had a conversation with me by email and we set up an interview.”
Much of the BBC interview focused on the congregational care program that First United Methodist Church has put into place. Dr. Tritle invited the church community to do some specific things. “Of course, you begin with prayer, and I wanted everybody to pray for those affected by COVID-19. Then include all the health professionals who are working so hard to treat and to care and to lessen the impact, along with the scientists who are working on that on our behalf around the world. I encourage everybody to care for one another, that just because we're not together doesn't mean that we're not connected heart-to-heart. We should keep in touch with each other. We do that by phone, by email FaceTime, by text, by whatever method that we can.”
The intent was simple - to share God's love with folks to keep in touch with each other…and that means phone calls. He has an ambitious goal for himself, and for his congregation. “I'm calling people in our phone directory, and I'm trying to make sure that in the next hundred days I make at least, 500 phone calls to check on folks. I'm encouraging others on staff to do the same, specifically in children's ministry, youth ministry, or the music department, for example, so that people stay connected.”
There's another aspect to the outreach, something that's being done as a circuit of United Methodist congregations in the Iowa City area: putting together and distributing quarantine bags. That includes something extra. “We're very new circuit that we put together here in Iowa City. We had been meeting and came up with the idea before all this kind of exploded. We decided that we would get some bags and put in those bags some items that we would take to people. We want to help them know that God loves them, and the church loves them. We’re listening to them, to learn what their needs are, and provide the trying to provide the specific things that they need as a family.”
This intentional connection
is making a difference. People are reporting that they are grateful to know that someone cares. “I had one person tell me about someone they had called that desperately need some help,” Dr. Tritle reported. “I found out about another one who was actually quarantined at a motel after getting back from one of the trips. So, it's experiences like that, that helps us know that we’ve got to find ways to connect with folks. People are isolated, people are alone. They need to know that they're not
He asks, everybody to do three simple things. “Be safe, number one. Number two is to be well and be healthy. And the third one is to be the love of God for all people - that's never going to be canceled and hope is never going to be canceled.”