Michigan church is growing, despite the pandemic
July 1, 2021 by Rebecca Mallozzi
Over the course of the last year, churches across the globe have wondered what coming out on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic looks like. Many have wondered how to make the best decisions for their worshipping communities. As the pandemic pushed churches to make difficult decisions, many churches saw an opportunity to try new things.
In a season of change and growth, one such church in Michigan cultivated a spirit of “church on the move” that inspired them to find innovative and creative ways to live into their mission statement: “A house of prayer for all people.”
Rev. Matthew Schramm, senior pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland, Michigan, said from the beginning, the church leaders have tried to connect to people in ways that move the “house of prayer” beyond just the four walls of the church. Over the course of the year, Memorial gained almost 40 new members. Some of those new members have never stepped foot inside the building, proving again the church is more than just its brick and mortar.
“Our groups never stopped,” Schramm said. “they just went online.”
Adapting and changing
Schramm began his call as designated pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in 2018. On September 27, 2020, the congregation voted at an outdoor worship to call him as their senior head of staff pastor, though his official installation depends on when gathering together safely with the presbytery can occur. The church has met virtually since March 2020, though the traditional service was always available via live stream.
People came to Memorial in a variety of ways. Some happened to drive by and notice an outdoor worship that piqued their interest. Others found the church virtually. Mostly, Schramm said, word of mouth has been the best testimony to what God is doing at Memorial.
According to their stewardship newsletter, Memorial Presbyterian Church has had about 9,500 views of worship services on its website and over 40,000 views on social media. In addition to a traditional and contemporary worship service on Sunday morning, Memorial Presbyterian finds different ways to consistently engage with the community. For Memorial, the key to keep moving has been “adapting.” When they couldn’t hold their traditional chili cook-off as planned, they moved the cook-off outside of the local shelter and invited the shelter guests to serve as the voters.
Last May, Midland experienced a flood that affected over 10,000 people. Since then, Memorial has partnered with local and federal emergency services to help rebuild the community. Memorial has also maintained their food pantry, the largest food pantry in Midland County. Instead of people coming into the building to pick their own food, volunteers bag food and bring it to people’s cars. Memorial’s food pantry gives away over 90,000 items of food a year, including fresh produce and meat. This missional spirit – and the desire to love and help their community – has helped get the word out that Memorial Presbyterian Church is here for people.
Since the beginning, leaders of Memorial Presbyterian Church have worked to create a spirit of welcome. Chat monitors are sure to welcome people who sign on to virtual worship and volunteers offer zoom fellowship gatherings. Folks are available to help walk people through technology changes. Memorial has even reached out to their local community, sending goody baskets to locally-owned businesses as a way to celebrate their neighbors.
“People are excited about being part of a church,” Schramm said, noting that they are a church on the move who follow a God on the move. “We try to offer different opportunities. We want people to know you make a difference, you matter, and collectively, we matter.”
Like most churches, members and friends of Memorial have seen their share of challenges. Not every idea was successful, but Schramm said he feels a great deal of freedom to try things. They were even able to spend some time this past year doing renovations to the church building, something much easier without scheduled building use by groups. Constant communication – including weekly addresses from Schramm broadcast on the church live stream – helps give people a chance to ask questions and stay informed about what is going on at church.
Not everything about what post-quarantine looks like at Memorial is clear, but Schramm said there are certainly benefits from the virtual community that will continue regardless of what the future looks like. Schramm said he gets inspiration and encouragement from the larger church community.
“Everyone has had to adapt,” Schramm said. “I’ve been impressed with all of my colleagues and all that they’re doing. I really don’t think we’re doing anything different than anybody else. We’re just trying to do the best we can. I’ve seen crazy creative ministry during this time.”
Rev. Rebecca (Becki) Mallozzi serves as pastor at Faith Church in Emmaus, Pa. She graduated from Waynesburg College (Pennsylvania) with her Bachelor of Arts in English and Communication and worked as a newspaper reporter before starting seminary. She graduated with her Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org.