Like many pastors, the Rev. Brenda Bell-McAdams was perplexed when the pandemic upended the way she shared the Gospel and reached out to her congregation.
“I had to use my cellphone and computer and really learn a new way to do ministry,” said the pastor of three small United Methodist churches in Greeneville, Tennessee.
After a tough year with COVID-19 and the reality that online worship should remain an option even after the pandemic wanes, Bell-McAdams is one of 10 Holston Conference pastors selected to receive dedicated tech equipment and training to prepare her for future ministry.
The pastors and churches were identified by their district superintendents when the director of Holston Conference Communications began to seek a way to do more to help struggling congregations with technology during the throes of the pandemic.
“Back in September 2020, once we realized COVID numbers were creeping back up, I knew that churches that didn’t have an online presence really needed one,” said the Rev. Tim Jones, Holston communications director.
For the last three days, Jones has delivered “tech kits” including a camera and other online-worship essentials to local churches throughout Holston, including Bell-McAdams and the Cherokee Circuit.
Each kit costs about $3,400, provided through a grant from Holston Conference Communications, Jones said. The 11-piece kit includes a computer, camcorder, cables, tripod, battery pack, memory cards, and microphone.
Along with the equipment, each church receives four instructional videos prepared by Jones and Ben Smith, director of multimedia at Sync Communications in Knoxville, Tennessee. Smith will also provide one-on-one help for setup and video editing as needed.
“The grants were awarded in February, but it’s taken this long to get the equipment,” Jones said, noting that electronics production and delivery has slowed throughout the pandemic.
The tech equipment was selected and packaged not only to help small churches produce online worship in the sanctuary, but Jones said he also wanted it to be portable for Bible study in the fellowship hall, for example, or small-group gatherings in homes.
“The internet is not available in every corner of the U.S. like everyone thinks it is,” Bell-McAdams said.
She explained that her rural churches did not have wifi installed prior to the pandemic, and her members were initially “reluctant” to approve a change.
“But when I said we got this gift from Holston Communications, they were onboard,” Bell-McAdams said. “We did not have the money to afford all this, so this was a big, big blessing to us.”
The 10 church units that received $34,000 total in communications aid include:
- Bishop Charge (Alexander Memorial, Mt. Hermon), Clinch Valley District
- Cherokee Circuit (Mt. Pisgah, Mt. Carmel, River Hill), Mountain View District
- Fairview UMC, Three Rivers District
- Green Meadow UMC, Smoky Mountain District
- Harrison UMC, Scenic South District
- Lennon-Seney UMC, Tennessee Valley District
- Lonsdale UMC, Tennessee Valley District
- Martin Chapel UMC, Tennessee Valley District
- Mt. Hebron UMC, Mountain View District
- Paynes Chapel UMC, Scenic South District
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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.