“We’ve got to acknowledge that this is Holy Week, and that it’s going to be different, but that we’re still going to go through it together.” That’s how Rev. Nate Nims, Senior Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Des Moines describes the sacred journey from Palm Sunday to Easter.
“It feels very different, very different,” Nims said, “especially with such a liturgical week and a week that is so connected to being together.” For example, “It’s very odd not to have that fully immersive setting of waving the palms together or to think about Maundy Thursday and not have that tangible element of the foot washing.”
Click here to listen to the Iowa Conference Conversations podcast with Rev. Nate Nims
Grace Des Moines is doing something to overcome being separated, particularly as Holy Week begins. “We've got palms that kids are coloring…little activity sheets that we're sending out to kids and then as the parents want, we'll share some pictures and have a collage of those images for Palm Sunday. There'll be a point during the service where everyone can wave them and celebrate that way.”
Holy Week and Easter
A potluck meal had been planned for Maundy Thursday. “Instead of being together in the fellowship hall,” Nims notes, “we'll have a bit of a digital potluck where we'll have people share recipes in the comments box and share pictures of what they're eating and interact with the meal that way. There will be some devotionals that can be home conversations.”
Good Friday can be a very lonely experience, filled with a sense of isolation, of being forgotten. Grace Des Moines is doing something to overcome that. “One of the things that we got started with early on was what we called “bridge the gap” groups. There are groups of three to five folks that selected their preferred mode of communication. We have some people that started text messaging groups, some people that are doing video conferences, some that are doing phone calls with one another. People sort of self-identified by the mode of communication that they thought would be most helpful for them.” One good that’s come out of the “bridge the gap” groups is that people who didn’t know each other before are getting to know one another in a new way and connect. “Those small groups are covenanting to check in with one another, around the question, ‘How is it with your soul?’”
Though Easter is April 12, the Easter experience will be sometime in the future, once the Coronavirus crisis subsides and the congregation can gather together again. “Whenever we came back into our sanctuary and we back together again in worship we would call that an Easter service.” Witnessing to the Resurrection, however, will be “in the here and now.” “The song that kept coming to mind for me,” Nims said, “is Easter People Raise Your Voices…every day to us is Easter, with its Resurrection song…we’re going to lean into that and celebrate Easter every Sunday.”
Online presence surges
The intentional virtual connection to its congregation and a wider community has brought about a phenomenal surge for Grace Des Moines' electronic presence. “Our presence on Facebook spread very quickly and our website use has gone up significantly as well, and because of that, we've started to upload things to YouTube. Within the first two weeks of not worshiping in person, we had over 500,000 interactions on our Facebook page. Some of the videos have been seen thousands of times. The number of likes on the Facebook page has gone up by 30%. Our website traffic at one point was up over 400%. It's has worked to have this online presence that is connecting with people. Just about every day we're posting something, either a devotion, or a video, or some sort of Thought for the Day to keep people connected” Nims reports.
Will what Grace Des Moines is doing to extend its outreach continue? “There are a few ways that what we’re doing might stick,” he said. “People have really appreciated the little drop-in videos that we've been doing. We've had people who have said that they were on lunch break, watch the message, and have told us that really helped them...those little moments have made a difference.” In addition, the growth of Grace’s online presence has made more connections to the community than the church has experienced previously.
Nims shared a response he’d received. “One person, who to the best of my knowledge has never been to Grace in person, shared that something that we posted last week made her feel ‘so thankful that this is my church.’ If someone who hadn't been to our church and hadn't interacted with us in person before feels, through these interactions, strongly connected and it's calling grace their church now” then the electronic outreach is worthwhile.
Being physically distanced by the Coronavirus crisis won’t limit the Grace community and its pastor and ministry team. “We are going into this week triumphantly with Christ. We are headed towards this new covenant, this new promise that we can love one another as Christ loves us and live into that command. Yes, we might face Good Friday, and with Christ feel forsaken, but we trust that this Resurrection is still with us…even if it's going to take more than three days for us to get back together…because we know it's coming.”