Disconnected. It is the word that is usually used to characterize the pandemic experience. It may indeed be the reality for most people.
However, the congregation of Golden Gate All Nations (GGAN) congregation in Naples, Fla., is a noteworthy exception. The experience has been dramatically different, with “connected” being the overwhelming experience. The theme “‘United through Fellowship, Worship, and Discipleship’ came into action when the doors of the church were officially closed,” said Dolphy Cross, pastor, whose leadership extends to three other churches.
When, on that day in March 2020, the confirmation of the pandemic strength of COVID-19 turned a planned post-worship formal fellowship luncheon into a “Grab ’n Go” boxed lunch, the path was set. “The enemy planned to close this church, but God had other plans,” says Catherine James-Bell, church clerk, as she marshaled the forces. Virtual church on Zoom and YouTube became the standard for two years. She sourced support for the worship services from church elders and members for Sabbath School, worship music, and occasionally the spoken Word as Cross ministered to his other churches. For additional interest, James-Bell reached out to friends and relatives in her native St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and other countries in the Caribbean, exposing GGAN to different worship experiences, while expanding the reach of the GGAN Church through external bonding.
Church activities continued during the week as the conference line was employed to continue call-in Wednesday night Prayer Meetings. On Friday evenings, with Hidy Matthew, AY leader, as host, members again gathered virtually for Vespers to welcome the Sabbath and to celebrate the survival of another week.
Important features of the Wednesday and Friday evening sessions were the testimonies that members shared to encourage each other through the manifestation of God in their lives. They were accompanied by requests for prayer that covered those members, relatives, and even neighbors afflicted with COVID-19 or other illnesses. Another feature was the spoken Word delivered by a church member, transforming many into lay preachers, a clear example of the power of the concept of the priesthood of believers. When one of the GGAN stalwarts passed away in the pre-vaccine height of the pandemic, James-Bell organized a drive-by farewell. There were also drive-by birthday celebrations with drop-off gifts: two for treasured seniors, one for a five-year-old.
The Health Department, headed by an ER physician, Patricia Gardner, M.D., and a team of committed nurses, became central in providing up-to-date information on the pandemic and its wily devastation throughout the country and the world. The church relied on this active department for reliable information with respect to vaccines, masking, self-protection, and home care of families. More importantly, the Health Department established strict protocols for safeguarding the health of members as the church reopened … first cautiously, then with full reopening on March 5, 2022.
Other departments used the Zoom platform and the teleconferencing facilities to present programs. Through Wednesday evening telephone meetings, the Education Department kept a supportive rein on the activities of the youth, especially those who were away at university. Women’s ministries zoomed a “Tell the Truth” series, inviting nationally-acclaimed speakers to provide critical information on issues of particular relevance in this dangerous post-truth era. Speakers included Emory Tolbert, professor and chair of Howard University History Department; Trevor O’Reggio, professor and chair of Church History, Religious Education, and Discipleship at Andrews University; Keith Burton, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of Africa: The Bible and African Christianity; Kwame Vanderhorst, minister and co-founder of “Prepare Our Youth,” and president of Seed Planter International; and LaVonne Browne, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who provided timely mental health counseling on “Growing through Grief.”
Furthering the agenda of keeping connected, men’s ministries continued its “Know Your Neighbor” series of interviews designed to help members get to know more about each other. Men also got together on an early 5:30 a.m. phone call to stay connected and support and pray for each other and for the entire church, which had by then become a close-knit family. During November, the national month of Thanksgiving, the Community Services Department collected turkeys to continue its annual turkey distribution.
Even as the sting of COVID-19 appears to wane, God has continued to pour out His blessings. Members unable to navigate online giving have been facilitated by a personalized pick-up service from John Bell, head deacon. The church has experienced a steady increase in membership, along with tithes and offerings.
In celebration of the opportunity to stay in touch visually and audibly, Cross praises God “for the faithfulness of the members who remained undaunted, steadfast, and true to God. We all fully embrace the unwritten motto, that has now become the written motto: ‘United through Fellowship, Worship, and Discipleship.’ To God be the Glory!”
SOUTHEASTERN | MAY 2022