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How COVID-19 is changing church

Kimberly Adams and Maria Hollenhorst Dec 24, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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The Rev. Chris Butler outside Chicago Embassy Church Network in South Holland, Illinois. Photo by Tanikia Carpenter, courtesy of Chicago Embassy Church Network
COVID-19

How COVID-19 is changing church

Kimberly Adams and Maria Hollenhorst Dec 24, 2020
The Rev. Chris Butler outside Chicago Embassy Church Network in South Holland, Illinois. Photo by Tanikia Carpenter, courtesy of Chicago Embassy Church Network
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Like most industries, churches and other faith-based organizations have been forced to adapt to survive 2020. 

“I really saw it as an opportunity,” said the Rev. Chris Butler, a pastor in the Chicago area who oversees two congregations that recently merged under the name Chicago Embassy Church Network and transitioned to virtual worship services in mid-March. 

“The opportunity to do things virtually gave us the chance to really think through, what are the essential elements of gathering?” Butler told “Marketplace’s” Kimberly Adams. “Gathering is such a core part of who we are, but what about our efforts to serve our communities?”

The Rev. Chris Butler leads a virtual church service for Chicago Embassy Church Network.
Behind the scenes of a virtual church service at Chicago Embassy Church Network. (Photo by Tanikia Carpenter, courtesy of Chicago Embassy Church Network)

According to projections from Feeding America, around 50 million people may experience food insecurity this year due to the pandemic. With Washington at odds for months over extending coronavirus relief aid, churches and other nonprofit organizations have helped fill gaps in the social safety net by providing food, clothing and other services to people in need. 

Butler’s church does not maintain a food pantry, but he said they’ve focused this year on helping with food distribution, providing a safe space for children to do remote schooling, working with health care organizations to provide COVID-19 testing for church members and nonmembers alike, and sharing health information.

“Those are all important components of being ‘the church,’ and so I really saw it as an opportunity for us to learn more into those other aspects of who we are.”

Church membership among U.S. adults has declined sharply in recent decades. “When any institution is experiencing that kind of decline, what you would need to do is reevaluate some of the things that you do,” said Butler. “What we have had, in the midst of this pandemic, as a church is an opportunity to really step back and reevaluate.”

Butler cited the rapid expansion of virtual church services across the country this year as one example of positive change. “I have people who tune in to the stream every week who never have — and probably never will — walk into the door of this building where I’m sitting,” he said. “And so, there’s an opportunity to rethink church, and I hope we take it.”

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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