HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The COVID-19 pandemic forced religious leaders and church goers around the world to alter the way they preach and practice. But church as we once knew it, may be just around the corner.
Preaching Minster Jody Vickery of Twickenham Church of Christ in Huntsville considers a historical perspective.
“There have been other pandemics...the 2nd century, 14th century, the spanish flu in the 1920s,” he said. “Churches emptied during those times and then afterward, thrived.”
Vickery anticipates the same outcome following the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of hardship, he believes people realize what is most important in life.
“Zoom and virtual meetings, those are all really important and sometimes very efficient but they are not very warm,” Vickery said. “It’s not the same thing as looking somebody in the eye and communicating with them one-on-one. I think people have missed that and I think that is one of the reasons people are being drawn back to joining groups of all kinds whether it’s church, community gatherings, or schools...we miss each other and that is a good thing.”
Now that churches are welcoming more and more folks back inside, Vickery has noticed some promising trends.
“We’ve noticed a lot of younger people, young married people and young single people who started coming to church that had not been. We have actually had an increase in those numbers,” Vickery said. “We started a new group for young professionals because we had so many of them coming back to church in the last 12 months. That’s been fascinating.”
Vickery, along with other church leaders in the area, also said there’s been a rise in people seeking guidance, wisdom and love.
“We’ve noticed a tremendous increase in people just needing to talk. And much of the time, they are not really looking for solutions as much as they are looking for somebody to listen, to affirm, to give them some hope,” Vickery said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Vickery and his team have made an effort to call every member of Twickenham Church, every week.
“We set up different teams...The staff did it sometimes, our Shepherd team did it sometimes, and then a group of volunteers would do it sometimes,” he said. “So everybody got calls every week for a long period of time and we are still calling, but on a less frequent basis because now more people are coming back.”
Rabbi Listfield of Etz Chayim Congregation in Huntsville has seen similar trends over the past year. He saw an increase in members taking part in virtual services in particular, and is confident in the future of in-person services as well.
“We happily did not see a decline. I see, having been zooming for a year to my group in Huntsville, that we have better attendance,” he said.
Listfield said he often speaks with his colleagues about the convenience of virtual services for older folks, but acknowledges the hundreds of years of tradition when it comes to religious affiliation.
“For 250 years in this country, religious affiliation has meant basically you go to church, you sit with the community, there is something structured that happens, then we have social time and then we go home,” he said. “And there will be some kind of shakeout, hopefully a lot of good things. But I am raising the questions.”
It may be a while before we are holding hands in prayer at church, but Vickery and Listfield believe we are on the right track, especially considering more people are showing interest in religious services now than they were before the pandemic started.
“I’m more than optimistic. I am hopeful. And hope is different than optimism. Optimizing takes its skew from the circumstances, hope doesn’t. In fact, the harder things get, the stronger hope becomes,” Vickery said.