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Churches and congregations get creative to show they care

Posted: April 24 2020 at 12:00 AM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt, Dir. of Communications


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Andrew Bohall before

To pass the time during the COVID-19 pandemic and to connect with her congregation (while providing some comic relief), the Rev. Mary Bohall, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church (UMC) in Mendota, Ill., has been sharing videos twice daily on Facebook and YouTube, including videos exhibiting her dog Tucker’s latest tricks. While there was an influx of views, Bohall says there was little engagement from the community. So she and her husband Andrew came up with a hair-raising idea. 

“I felt like we needed to connect to the community in a meaningful way,” said Bohall who started thinking after looking at her husband's unruly, uncut hair. “Andrew felt like people needed something lighthearted and silly to help them escape their circumstances for a little while. We also wanted to encourage people to contribute to our outreach project of providing $20 grocery store gift cards to those in need and sharing children’s artwork to those who are housebound and isolated to lift their spirits.”

On April 14 Bohall announced on Facebook that if her video of training her dog Tucker received 50 “likes,” Bohall would give her husband a Mohawk haircut to fundraise for more gift cards and children’s artwork. Facebook fans came through, and the next evening she pulled out her hair gel and Andrew’s razor. 

“I had no idea what I was doing. I've never cut hair before and the only time I have ever used his razor was to buzz a spot he missed,” said Bohall. “The video was actually his idea and he didn’t seem afraid at first. But when we started recording, Andrew got very nervous!”

The video of her shaping his new hairstyle has now received more than a thousand views, and so far they’ve donated $425 in grocery store gift cards. (Watch video)

***Update 4/22/20 - Sullivan's Grocery Store in Mendota saw the video and has donated 10 gift cards and another anonymous donor is matching 10 more.***

The donations are giving the community some relief during these difficult times, especially after the town lost two of its largest employers in the last year. 

“These losses combined with the temporary unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial strain of the farming community from last year's flooding have created great economic stress in our town,” said Bohall. “We wanted to find a way to help. We've also randomly gone to the grocery store and given in-person donations to the staff.”

Andrews Hair

Andrew Bohall after

Fundraising Campaigns

In Aurora, Ill., many people have been furloughed or have lost their jobs, including barbers and hairstylists. The congregation at Wesley UMC says the loss of income among friends, neighbors and family members is staggering, so they’ve started a GoFundMe campaign to provide financial help to those in the community who are in need. The goal is to raise $30,000. 

“The families of Wesley United Methodist Church of Aurora have been helping our neighbors in need for 160 years,” said the Rev. John Bell, Wesley UMC’s senior pastor. “Recent examples include participating in Change the World Sundays, serving the homeless at Hesed House, and supporting the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry.”

Bell suggested those in the congregation who have not felt a negative financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic could share part or all of their stimulus check from the Federal government.

“Our neighbors are hurting,” said Bell. “Most have never had to ask for help even one time in their lives. We are in a very unusual situation. Please join me in reaching our goal of $30,000 to help our friends and neighbors.”

Local Blood Drives

Another great need during this pandemic is blood donations. Fenton UMC recently held a blood drive with the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center out of Davenport, Iowa, under strict COVID-19 safety protocols. 

“The Center brought what they call the ‘bloodmobile,’ which is a portable unit with all their supplies and donation chairs on board,” said Tina Rice, Administrative Assistant at Fenton UMC and Leon UMC. “We saw 20 donors and three were able to give double red blood cells, so we ended up with 23 total donations with three new donors!”  

The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center says healthy individuals are critically needed now and in the next few months to donate blood. The blood center must maintain 24/7 operations during the pandemic to ensure that life-saving treatments can continue for patients. In fact, 60% of their blood supply comes from mobile blood drive events.

"We have been doing blood drives here at the church for quite some time,” said Rice. “The blood center asked us to keep our blood drive scheduled since there have been several others cancelled or postponed due to the virus.” 

Rice added during this recent drive, the center staggered donors and staff six feet apart so to limit contact with one another and all precautions were taken for the recovery period afterward. Fenton UMC plans to hold another blood drive in August.

Providing Meals to Healthcare Workers

The congregation at Flowing Forth UMC in Aurora recently provided breakfast for hospital workers coming off the night shift and those beginning the day shift at Edward Hospital's Laboratory and Pharmacy departments in Naperville. The emergency room has received food from local Naperville businesses, so the hospital recommended the church provide food for other vital departments like laboratory and pharmacy.

Both departments had 25-30 people there during the 6:30 am shift change including two members of Flowing Forth. Along with the packaged bagels, cream cheese and pastry rings from Panera, thank you notes signed by members of the congregation were also given to the workers.

"We’re overwhelmed by all that the medical community is doing to provide care and healing during this time, and we wanted to provide a little joy, gratitude, and encouragement in return!" said Sara Williams, Ministry Assistant at Flowing Forth UMC.

Get Creative

Whether it’s sharing fun videos on social media, starting a donation drive, or hosting a blood drive, Bohall says this is a unique time for churches to get creative to help those in need. “We are doing things we have never had to do or even thought we would do,” said Bohall. “Every community is different and will respond to your ministry differently. This might be that opportunity to try those left-field ideas you always thought were too silly or to connect with people in revolutionary ways. Nothing is normal right now–don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself in the best way possible.”

At the same time, Bohall says she’s learned to take virtual ministry more seriously than she did before the pandemic struck. 

“I have discovered that people need to see their pastor and their community, even if they're just watching you try to train your dogs, test a new recipe, or shave your husband's head,” she said.
“There is a powerful ministry in the mediocre and even the silly. I think hope comes in being present in whatever ways I can.”

Bohall says beyond the virtual connection, she has sent handwritten cards, made phone calls and chatted with people while walking her dogs.  

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Fenton UMC held a blood drive April 14 to help meet the needs of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a weird and scary time for a lot of people,” said Bohall. “Just letting them know that I'm here and they are not alone is important. Hopefully knowing that their pastor loves, cares about, and is present with them reminds them that God loves, cares, and is present with them, too.” 

It’s unclear how long this pandemic will keep its hold on our nation, but churches are continuing to bring hope and light in these dark times. 

As for the Mohawk, Andrew Bohall was pleased with the end result and plans to keep it until the state's stay-at-home order is lifted. He may even dye it pink if someone comes up with another fundraising challenge.

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