As 2020 drew to a close, we at the Arlington (Washington) Church reflected on the challenges and opportunities God has allowed us to experience. Like so many small churches, the introduction of COVID-19 has raised many problems and, as we are finding, a few opportunities.
When we track the year, it is evident that even through the lockdowns that began on March 11, 2020, up to the current restrictions, God is leading. His leading can be illustrated in a short recount of the year. Pastor Doug Sharp retired in November 2019 and this left the Arlington Church to rely on the active members to sort through the usual problems. In the first notices of the COVID-19 entry into this country, we began to implement some hygiene precautions.
As the disease progressed there was a recommended shutdown of all churches. While the sanctuary was closed, we did not lock the building on Sabbath. While most stayed home, we made sure that the doors were open each week, and that some form of internet Sabbath School was available for the curious or anyone who chose to show up. This was done in the foyer since the sanctuary was officially closed. We use a laptop and projector to show the study on a foyer wall.
This showing started out with only a couple people but grew as the weeks progressed. With seating more than 10 feet apart and mostly 20 feet apart, one could be quite isolated from others. What happened was that nonmembers were the predominant ones to show up. Sometimes this informal class would last until 1:30 in the afternoon. The number usually was under 12 people, but they came to ask questions and learn.
We then had requests from members to do more, so we began the process to set up drive-in church. This was composed of an outside pop-up tent and an FM transmitter so attendees could hear the message in their cars and watch the speaker. We also used a video camera to continue showing the message on the foyer wall for those who wanted to continue meeting inside like the informal Sabbath School, which had existed earlier.
In May, as restrictions eased, we began to have more requests for inside space. As a result, we set up a video link to the sanctuary. A few went there and, because of the space, were very socially distanced.
Next came an inquiry of what could be done for the young people for a Sabbath School class. Dawn Hainey and Lisa Hainey knew they could not meet inside as the parents were very concerned. One of the members over a couple weeks sewed an outside tent cover. This was nearly 30 feet across and provided dry space which they could meet. Thus began the outside class.
As of today they are still using the tent and usually have 10 or more people under the cover. With the colder temperatures, we now provide heat for those who want it. An added bonus for this cover is the shade so a projector and screen can show the sanctuary service to those who are still in cars. We also have outside sound to complement the FM signal they receive.
The church board intends to meet the needs of the members in whatever form is necessary. As a result, the overall adult Sabbath School and worship attendance is at or above prepandemic levels.
The bottom line is how the Lord has worked. On any Sabbath there are from 10 to 20 people in their cars watching the service outside the church. There is a lower-division Sabbath School outside with similar numbers in attendance to what was before the pandemic. We have an isolated class for the teens and an attendance only slightly lower than the previous year. The sanctuary attendance for the worship service is at what the state allows (25% of occupancy).
The online attendance is growing. With the leading of our new pastor, Cristian Bobocea, and God's guiding hand we are growing with new baptisms. Even during this pandemic, God is producing blessings in the Arlington Church.