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The traveling church of the pandemic

By staff
Proclaimer

In March 2020, CommUNITY Church of Salem, Virginia, began displaying a banner on the columns of its now silent worship center reading, “The Church is not closed, it’s deployed.”

This has not merely been a slogan but an apt description of the creative outreach of the church and its pastor, Tom McCracken, during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have mobilized for numerous creative ministry efforts in the spring and summer of 2020 — but this has been the mark of the church through the years.

The church began immediately ministering to the needs of the medical community and first responders locally. The SBC of Virginia was able to provide masks for distribution at several locations around the state, and CommUNITY Church became a distribution center. These face masks were given to hundreds who needed them in the area. The church even began delivering masks to additional areas of need.

When it was announced that the local public school system was planning a hybrid schedule (which meant children would be home some days each week doing online schooling), McCracken jumped to the aid of the school board. Having formerly served as an elected member of that school board, he knew the challenges of this plan for parents.

McCracken volunteered his church to help and eventually was appointed as co-chairman of the Roanoke County Public Schools Community Day Care Task Force. This task force, in conjunction with the SBCV and other nonprofits, secured numerous local churches to serve as host locations for day programs, including day care, tutoring, and weekday activities to help local families.

When churches began outdoor drive-in services, CommUNITY tried a creative approach: rooftop worship. The physical layout of its property allowed the church to put a team of musicians and a preacher on the roof while the parking lot filled with people in cars hearing the gospel proclaimed.

Families who lived nearby could also hear and, “each Sunday, several of the church neighbors would sit out on their porch, Bible in hand, and listen in,” McCracken said. “One of those neighbors told me her stepdad began listening on the porch despite the fact that she had ‘tried for years’ to tell him about the gospel.”

When the pastor heard that local restaurants were struggling, he decided this could be a gospel opportunity too. CommUNITY began a series of “Restaurant Revivals,” where they would go to a local restaurant, provide outside worship (with music and preaching) and order meals delivered to everyone’s cars. The group would even take up an offering, which was presented as a gift to the restaurant workers.

For testimonies of their outreach creativity, look no further than the front page of the Roanoke Times.

In April, Dan Casey wrote about “The Traveling Church of the Pandemic”: “Tuesday I attended the most peculiar religious service I’ve ever observed. It was outdoors, in the heart of downtown Salem. Congregants listened to the sermon over their car radios, like patrons at a drive-in movie. Meanwhile, gloved-and-masked restaurant workers scurried car to car across a parking lot, taking orders and rushing take-out lunches to the faithful and hungry. A trio sang praise songs and each time they wrapped one up a chorus of honking horns burst into the air. Near its conclusion, a deacon in a polka-dotted face mask accepted donations from drivers, who deposited them into an overturned cowboy hat. All the proceeds of the collection — nearly $1,000 — went to workers at the Mac and Bob’s Restaurant. Welcome to the Traveling Church of the Pandemic.”

“One of the purposes,” McCracken said, “[was] to inject some sort of financial resource into these struggling restaurants. We can do a lot more than sitting at home and lamenting that we’re hurting.”

CommUNITY ended up doing six such Restaurant Revivals and has been a continual blessing in the area.