Stepping Up to Feed the Hungry and Clothe the Poor, Manchester Christian Church During COVID-19

Jesus summarized the second aspect of the Great Commandment of God, saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

For Executive Pastor Jeremy Peterson and Manchester Christian Church (MCC) in New Hampshire, the ability to respond well to COVID-19 was fostered by equally balancing those two: the care of community (neighbor) with the care of self (the church).

“One thing that had happened even before this took place—we were having families that were inviting their friends over for brunch,” Jeremy said. “And they would actually watch the service together at 11 a.m. They would discuss what had taken place in the service.”

Manchester Christian Church Responding to COVID-19 Crisis

Many churches, in response to COVID-19, have leaned toward one direction of care over the other, but Manchester has been able to ensure that their neighbors as well as their members have received shepherding during this uncertain time. It’s a level of care that goes beyond the church’s leadership team and has been infectious throughout their church body.

“I think we'll see some really neat things come out of it, and I'm very hopeful for what this means for engagement,” Jeremy continued. “And for us, it’s all about people connecting to God, people on the mission of Jesus, and that this new normal will actually help us be able to do that even more.”

Assisting What Existed

Because of their current work in their neighborhoods, MCC was able to come alongside existing community organizations and assist when the pandemic hit.

“We realized that there were a couple of food pantries in the area that have actually closed because of COVID-19,” Jeremy said. “They were concerned about the traffic, people going in and out of there, so we just reached out to the New Hampshire Food Bank and asked, ‘How can we help? Give us a specific list of items that you need.’

“On Tuesday and Thursday of the first week of the state orders, we actually did a drive-through service,” Jeremy continued. “We served a little more than 100 bins that first week, filled with non-perishable food, paper products, and gloves and masks.”

The heart of service, in fact, was so infectious within the body at MCC, that the resources were being donated by church members across all of their campuses. Church members were looking for ways to give. They were eager to help in any way that they could.

“It’s all about people connecting to God, people on the mission of Jesus, and that this new normal will actually help us be able to do that even more.”—@jeremypeterson

“We've been overwhelmed by the response,” Jeremy remarked. “We were shocked to see the amount of donations that were given. It was pretty crazy.”

In addition, Manchester Christian Church was able to come alongside the local Salvation Army and be an extension of what they’re doing during the week.

“We realized that the Salvation Army was providing food Monday through Friday, and no one was providing food for our under-resourced neighbors on Saturday and Sunday,” Jeremy said. “We had stepped up and we were providing meals for them every Saturday and Sunday with volunteers from the church.”

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, MCC also realized that the Salvation Army was closing many of their locations. As the stay-at-home orders continued to extend, Manchester volunteers began extending their efforts beyond weekend food service.

“Now there’s different individuals at their homes making burritos and wrapping them up,” Jeremy commented. “They’re going to the park and having people come through to pass out food to a lot of the under-resourced people that live amongst the Manchester community.”

Engaging for the Long-Term

Because of MCC’s efforts to better care for themselves and their New Hampshire neighbors, the church has seen an increase in engagement during their community outreach, as well as during their online church services.

“The national average that most people attend church is about 1.8 times a month,” Jeremy explained. “For us it's more like 1.3 to 1.5 times a month. I think that some of these additional opportunities, not only online services, but things like Zoom groups throughout the week, have contributed to the success of our engagement throughout.”

Jeremy assesses that they’ll continue to see a spike in engagement in the coming months, potentially more than they were seeing prior to the outbreak. They have leveraged their online presence in a great way. Yet there’s also a sense that physical attendance could be affected when life returns to normal.

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Manchester Christian Church Responding to COVID-19 Crisis

“We believe that physical attendance could drop somewhere between 20% to 30% whenever we go back to the new normal,” Jeremy reflected. “So I think re-exploring what that looks like: Do we open all the locations? Do we have fewer services? I think some of those things are questions that we’ll have to answer once we see what attendance patterns look like post COVID-19.”

The big question for MCC and its leadership team is, how do they continue to stay connected in meaningful ways when all this is over? The team isn’t looking at this pandemic as a bandage to a temporary issue. They’re looking at this crisis as a catalyst to drive them toward ongoing and consistent care across the board.

“If you’re leading from a place of love and a place of hope and a place of faith, you know that, though things are changing, this may open up some great opportunities to reach many many more people,” Jeremy concluded.