By Cindy Solomon

Morton Memorial United Methodist Church in Monteagle received a $2,500 grant from the Golden Cross Foundation, a ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. The grant helped purchase equipment needed for outdoor and online worship services.

In the early months of the pandemic, congregation members formed a COVID Task Force, staying up to date on pandemic-related numbers and recommendations by federal and state agencies.

“We have not met in our sanctuary since March 2020,” said the Rev. Jodi McCullah, Morton’s senior pastor. “We realized we needed to come up with alternative ways to connect.”

At the time, the church had a website but nothing else in terms of an online presence. Because some members were unable to attend outdoor services due to illness or self-isolating and newcomers wanted to check out sermons and worship services before attending, church leaders began learning about recording worship and posting it online.

“The pandemic nudged us — pushed us off the ledge actually — to get serious and figure out how to offer online worship,” said McCullah. “We have learned how to plan, film, and edit worship services. Thanks to cell phones, members can record themselves reading Scripture, offering prayers, leading liturgies, and even singing from their own home. These recordings are then edited into weekly worship services.”

To help cover the cost of equipment needed for outdoor and online worship services, the church’s Trustees Chair Janet Miller-Schmidt applied for a Golden Cross Foundation grant. Money from the grant helped purchase items such as microphones, a digital keyboard, PA system, tripod, and a computer and smart phone for recording and editing.

“We are grateful for the opportunities to meet outdoors, weather permitting, and to offer online worship services,” McCullah said. Thanks to the Golden Cross Foundation grant, we now have the technology needed to be seen and heard by folks both in person and online.”

In their own words, three members share how they have been blessed by the church’s outdoor and online services during the pandemic:

“I absolutely love the ability to watch a video any time, rewind when an idea needs more examination on my part, and enjoy special moments such as songs by special guests and children,” said Linda J. “I also love the peaceful visuals.” (Church videographers include local visuals such as garden paths and lake and mountain views.)

Anne S. said, "The video and outdoor worship experiences keep me feeling in touch with my church family. When we returned to the outdoor worship services — even though it was for a short time — it made me feel like my battle with cancer was over and my life would be normal again. It was like a sign that I should get back into life."

Martha Ann P. added, "Our online worship services have been so beautifully and sensitively done. It still hurts not to be in person in the sanctuary, but having the music, scriptures, prayers, and sermon online in the sanctuary has helped me stay connected to Morton Memorial and feed my soul. Also, being asked to read Scriptures for services helps me feel closer to the other members of the congregation. The online services have pushed our small congregation into the digital age! I have been able to share what our little church is doing with friends in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas.”

Post pandemic when in-person worship resumes in the sanctuary, church members plan to continue online services. This will allow those who are unable to attend, for whatever reason, to be able to worship and feel connected with the congregation.