Washington Gardens SDA Church Keeping Hope Alive during COVID-19

Written by: Shirley Henry-Richards | Friday, June 26, 2020

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” This Charles Dickens’ depiction of the landscape of England and Paris during the French Revolution aptly captures the ambivalence felt by many during the peak of Jamaica’s experience in the COVID-19 pandemic.

With no living person in Jamaica having been exposed to a pandemic before, everyone, including government and religious leaders was about to enter uncharted waters as the first COVID-19 case in Jamaica was announced on March 10. The announcement of Preventative measures and management protocols were swift, decisive and to some, extreme. One of the causalities of the protocols was the ban on gathering of large groups, such as our church congregation. For sure, that was a situation that was unheard-of except in the prophecies related to the Last Day Events.

For many of our members, it was a feeling of utter despair since they could not assemble with the brethren and share their usual warmth and fellowship. As was bantered, during the ‘lockdown’ period, the Devil thought he had a victory by closing the churches. In addition to the loss of face-to-face interactions, many of our brethren and community folk

were faced with economic hardships as there were job losses, shortened work hours and the enforcement of the directive that -especially those above 65 years should remain at home for the most part. Isolation, deprivation and fear of the unknown seemed to be the ultimate result of the Covid19 epidemic; a season of darkness, the winter of despair.

It would have been that way, had it not been for the vibrant efforts of the Washington Gardens and Balcombe Drive SDA Churches and by extension the East Jamaica Conference and the Jamaica Union which all stepped in to keep hope alive during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Truly, where the Devil closed one church, hundreds were opened as members quickly acquainted themselves with traditional and novel ways of worship in their homes on radio, television and various social media platforms; thus formalizing a worship centre in their homes. This was made possible through the hard work and perseverance of the Communication and Audio-Visual teams of Washington Gardens and the other entities.  If there are any heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the media personnel of our local churches, Conference and Union must be celebrated right alongside the Health Professionals and other essential workers. They have been working assiduously to keep the membership spiritually fed, encouraged and focused on the waymarks as we look for the soon return of our Saviour.

As if in preparation for such a time as this, several WhatsApp groups had been formed within the church.  These enabled the maintenance of close contact in the midst of physical distance.  New groups were introduced which enabled our leaders and Pastor to inform, motivate and reassure us on a regular basis. Where there might have been total isolation in the in the lockdown period, there was meaningful communication as someone or a group was always just a call or text away. Where there might have been a spiritual dearth, the spiritual needs were met as the services of the church were available to most and tailored to stimulate the hope and confidence of the believers.   There have been lectures, sermons and interactive sessions on various topical issues related to protocols for avoiding and managing COVID-19, Parenting in COVID-19 times, Stewardship Focus, Family Life, Women and Children focus and the impactful Corona Chronicles with Dr. Claudia Atkinson.  Members and visitors scattered across Jamaica, the

Region and the World came back home to nurture and be nurtured in the pandemic. Though physically distant, there continues to be a close spiritual bond.

The spiritual growth of the membership was also fostered by the Bible Class sessions conducted by Pastor Christopher Atkinson; the vibrant Sunday and Wednesday night services, the innovative Friday Evening Vesper services; the well timed 100 Days of Prayer session and Fasting and Prayer services.

It was also quite significant that during the heights of the pandemic, nine (9) persons committed their lives to the Lord and were baptised. What better way to embrace the Hope that can be found only in Jesus!

The willingness to share among members and the community has been reminiscent of the early Christian church when the believers were in one accord and felt that what they had was not theirs alone. The church, through its Community Services Department and personal efforts of members distributed over 400 personal care packages to church and community members.  The church has demonstrated its core mission in such activities of caring.

In a bid to cater to the total man, virtual exercise sessions were also convened, cooking demonstrations were aired, games night and Mothers’ Day celebration hosted. When many thought that we would have nothing before us in our physically distant spaces, we were able to ‘Zoom In’ on everything before us that we were accustomed to and so much more. We must give thanks to God for His enabling power, to our Leaders for vision and perseverance, to the persons who made it all happen and the members for their support as efforts were made to keep hope alive.

It is our hope that as we inch forward to gradually regain a sense of normalcy or embrace the new normal we will do so with hope ignited as we seek to influence others for time and eternity.

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