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Faith Over Fear 

Without gathering physically, Hendricks County churches provide certainty in uncertain times

By Stephanie Dolan

No matter if routines have stayed similar for essential workers or shifted to parents working at home while teaching their kids Hendricks County residents might find themselves as introverts relishing in the comfort of homes or social butterflies climbing the walls and counting down until isolation is lifted, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused uncertainty.

In this time of unknown, people rooted in faith or those seeking are often turning to their faith for guidance, answers and comfort. Churches across Hendricks County have switched their services to an online formats, allowing members a respite from the news, the virus and the fear. While attendees might sit on their couches in pajamas, these services have provided some semblance of normalcy and even fellowship on Sunday mornings.

Area churches are working to maintain both the spiritual and physical health of their congregations during this time of quarantine, encouraging community support through food donations and blood drives and even adding to their congregations and services throughout the week to help people pray, worship and refocus, showing the church is a body beyond the buildings where people gather on Sunday.

“The people who are staying in contact are rallying and in good spirits,” said Father Robert Hausladen of St. Susanna Catholic Church. “A lot of our people are reaching out to help others.”

For what has become the new normal, Hausladen turns to the internet to connect with his parishioners for mass.

“The first two weeks we had trouble with sound and video quality, but this last weekend [April 5] it was better,” he said. “According to YouTube, there were 1,000 views. Those who respond are definitely appreciating the online format.”

The St. Susanna youth ministry has been doing conference calls.

“They’re used to meeting on a regular basis,” he said. “From what I hear, it’s been successful.”

While the world around us may be changing, Hausladen said it is imperative to remember that we have not been abandoned.

“If anything is going to get us through. This it’s our faith,” he said.

Jonathan Lilly, senior pastor at Harmony Baptist Church, is seeing a greater response to their online services.

“We had over 1,000 views just on the Facebook Live portion,” he said. “We’re seeing enjoyment because it’s something different for a lot of people.”

Lilly believes church members struggle not being able to gather physically but not with their faith.

“They are just frustrated by a lack of face-to-face relational interaction,” he said. “We’re making phone calls and sending cards. Those are making a difference, but I think it’s just the inability to be able to go and do life like they were used to. I think some of the fear of the virus when they do go out just creates a little more tension and frustration in people’s lives.”

Those who are struggling should remember that God is still in control even in the midst of the chaos, Lilly said.

“We see it in scripture,” he said. “We see God at work in the midst of the storm. We’ll get to the other side of it.”

Harmony Baptist partnered with the Town of Avon to have volunteers available to go out and help others who may be unable to leave their homes.

“There’s definitely a readiness and a willingness to serve,” he said.

In Brownsburg, Connection Pointe Christian Church staff sees people connecting, even if it’s not in the church building; the church being the church. The church had already beefed up its ability to live stream services before the pandemic. 

“It’s amazing how people long for connection,” said Dan Lidstone, creative arts pastor. “It’s been interesting because we’ve seen a big jump in general viewership in our weekend services even over what our physical attendance would be for a weekend service. I think people are responding really well.”

In addition to Saturday and Sunday services, Connection Pointe added two events during the week — a live prayer meeting on Tuesday nights as well as a worship night on Thursdays.

“It’s basically a night for us to sing and reflect on the truth of who God is,” he said. “I get to lead our music. Sometimes a song can just carry our hearts to a place of peace. Our people have just responded in such an overwhelming way to those nights of worship. They’ve said they needed a break from what is happening in our world.”

For those who are struggling, Lidstone that is okay.

“I believe that when we struggle with something, we’re seeking to understand, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “I would just invite them to speak to God. Tell God you’re struggling. God always answers that prayer. He always reveals himself to those who are calling on him.”

LIdstone also encourages people to read the Bible.

“It’s amazing how many layers of truth are in the Bible,” he said. “Reading the Bible is an amazing place to start. Start in the book of John. It walks you through the life of Jesus, and it’s a great starting place for someone who is struggling with their faith. Bring that to God, and he’ll answer your prayers.”

Many at Connection Pointe are practicing their faith by helping others.

“We put out a call to our congregation to sign up to be a helper during this time,” Lidstone said. “We had folks text in if they’re willing to help, talk to people on the phone or deliver groceries and medications. Hundreds of people responded. It’s been overwhelming. We’re also delivering Bibles and devotionals to those who are older in senior communities. A lot of people are stepping up in this way.”

Connection Pointe had seven Easter services and livestreams at 5 Saturday and at 8, 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. Sundays. Those interested can also watch the services after the live broadcasts.

“Folks can go to connectionpointe.org/live and they can join in with any one of those services,” Lidstone said. “For a lot of people Easter is a really special holiday. We’re really trying to help people have a special experience.”

Christian churches are not the only ones in Hendricks County that have responded to this crisis with volunteerism and a move to online services.

“Our members remain strong during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Neha Patel, said spokesperson for the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir. “We continue to practice our faith and to use it to help us emotionally. Our current spiritual leader has encouraged us to follow the guidelines of healthcare and government officials.”

Members have also been encouraged to remain spiritually connected by increasing personal endeavors.

“Living in a digital world, we have the benefit of doing so through social media, text messages, group messaging, conference platforms and unique virtual services,” Patel said. “All of our services have gone virtual. In particular, every Sunday, there are four separate webcasts in multiple languages based on age groups — children under the age of 13, adolescents between the ages of 14 and 22, young adults up to the age of 35 and the fourth for those over the age of 35. The assemblies are broadcasted and accessible to all followers.”

It is nice to have the ability to stay spiritually connected through virtual methods, she said, noting they’ve had positive feedback to streaming services.

“The closure of our mandirs poses a challenge to all ages and backgrounds across the world that participate in weekly assemblies, spiritual discourses and community charity initiatives,” she said. “Going to a physical mandir to worship is an important Hindu practice. However, thanks to the efforts of our current spiritual leader, Mahant Swami Maharaj and our senior leadership, thousands of us here in the United States can get the same experiences virtually. These experiences include not just weekly assemblies, but also daily online viewings from the inside of the Mandir and daily participation in the holy ceremonial arti, the sacred waving of lamps, through live streaming.”

The Islamic Society of North America is also providing online services.

“ISNA has been providing virtual online services to its membership including Friday reflections, online live broadcast from national speakers and more,” said Basharat Saleem, executive director. “We have collaborated with various organizations, including interfaith groups, to communicate and provide services for our membership.” 

Like all who welcome large gatherings, the Islamic Society is monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation, and they continue to look to federal, state and other agencies for guidance.

“The safety of our attendees and the community is our top priority,” he said. “As Muslims, we are told to be prepared, proactive, patient and ultimately put our trust in God. 

In March, ISNA helped create the National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19. While the organization may be national, there is no shortage of local response to the community.

“We are a national organization but we are also working with many local organizations as well as interfaith groups who are working in their respective local communities,” Saleem said. “These are indeed difficult and unprecedented times, but as human beings we have to take precautions and maintain a sense of compassion and help the whole community.”  



Faith helps teens struggling with connection during the pandemic

“Seniors are struggling a ton right now,” said Darren Simpson, youth pastor at Kingsway Christian Church in Avon. “They’re moving into an uncertain world. They put a ton of work in, only for a worldwide pandemic to bring a struggle for them.”

Adolescents are used to having multiple avenues of interaction and not being able to just hang out is a big issue, Simpson said.

“A lot of teenagers are built around connection, and there’s consistency in that because you go to school everyday,” he said. “They need interaction with friends. Students are growing up in a generation of technology, so they’re used to connecting with each other.”

Simpson is encouraging his teens to spend time with their families on Sundays and participate in virtual online services.

“Over spring break we were really content heavy and pushing videos daily,” he said. “We’re going back now to more of a relaxed schedule and putting out videos on Mondays and Wednesdays, and we’re also doing Zoom in the evenings so as not to mess with school schedules.”

For teens who are struggling, Simpson wants to above all remind them that they are not alone.

“More than anything, if they feel alone, then they need to reach out and connect because a lot of people don’t know they’re struggling,” he said. “And the only way to do that is to reach out and make a connection. No matter what, they can always depend on Jesus. Just because I’m at a distance doesn’t mean we can’t talk and work through hard conversations.”


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