Leaders of Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple never imagined that they would have to close their church doors to the congregation. They now have to think of creative ways to worship without being in the physical church setting. Credit: Dennis Brothers

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – For many American families, church is a way of life.  Families get dressed on Sunday morning, enjoy a breakfast together and go to their house of worship where they hear moving sermons and see familiar faces.

COVID-19 changed that tradition for many congregations, and deeply affected the way pastors carry out their work.  Many wondered how they would hold worship or if their membership would decline. The most important question is how would their church be able to stay financially afloat through the pandemic.

Some pastors were fortunate enough to learn their members were actually contributing more in tithes and offerings and also adjusting to having church outdoors.

“Once the church got used to going outside it was very effective for us,” said Bishop Michael C. Butler founder of Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple in Orangeburg.  “The people here at Victory Tabernacle are trained to adjust to change.”

COVID-19 also forced some preachers to finally wrestle with technology.

COVID-19 turned everything upside down. It was a lot of adjusting to get used to,” said the Rev. Ellen Skidmore,   senior pastor of Forest Lake Presbyterian Church. “Everything happened so fast I wasn’t able to talk, hug or even check in with my community and members of my church.”

Skidmore said weekly traditions disappeared overnight.

“I was very disappointed to know that I would have to stop with our normal tradition of serving coffee after church,” Skidmore said. 

Technology trouble is why some churches are seeking professional help from researchers who deal with these kinds of issues.

Andre Rogers, a professor at Columbia International University, said he worries that churches across the country are closing because of the pandemic.

“It’s been reported that 30,00 churches are going to close nationwide,” said Rogers, “mainly because they did not have an online presence, good source of giving stream and a good source of communication.”

Rogers also said that even African- American churches are seeing a very dramatic decrease in attendance due to COVID-19.

“The numbers of COVID cases are so high in the African-American community that’s been a big concern for the African American church,” Rogers said.

Minister Christopher Green, who serves as the youth minister and faithful member of Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple, said he was initially worried about changing traditional ways of worship.

“We are so used to having service on the inside the building,” said Green. “The transition to the outside has been quite different, but I really see that being on the outside has really touched a lot of people.”

He and other pastors know  they may not be back in church sanctuaries until after a coronavirus vaccination  is distributed to the public. Until then the ministers say they are searching for other ways to give comfort to people as they face life’s problems.

Victory Tabernacle in Orangeburg has had to hold Wednesday night Bible study virtually since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Credit: Dennis Brothers

Minister Rocky Simmons and the Victory Tabernacle Praise team do their best to make sure praise and worship is felt through the computer screens during Wednesday night virtual bible study. Credit: Dennis Brothers

Normally on Sundays the pews are packed at Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple but the coronavirus pandemic has required the church to go online. Credit: Dennis Brothers