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Comic Relief: “Charlie” Helps Church Cope with COVID-19 Changes

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Southeast, The Way

By Carl Stagner

Between the bad news and the subdued tone of serious, but important updates concerning the coronavirus, the person in the pew—or the recliner in recent weeks—is desperately in need of a break. While some find inspirational distraction from the pandemic through cooking, movies, or time spent in the great outdoors, Church of God Ministries has lightened the mood through stories of God at work, CHOGnews cartoons, heritage music posted on social media, and featured online churches. First Church of God in Winchester, Kentucky, brought a creative idea to life early in the pandemic, bringing much-needed, practical comic relief for both the pastor in the pulpit and congregants at home. Meet “Charlie.”

Like so many under stay-at-home orders, a former elder of First Church found himself with a little extra time on his hands. Recognizing the potential discomfort his pastor would experience while preaching to empty seats, Tony Young assembled a life-size stick figure who was soon given the name Charlie. While the feedback from a stick figure couldn’t compare to that which comes from a live audience, Charlie proved to be an encouraging prop. Kim Smyth, the church’s office administrator, echoes Pastor Allan Hutchinson’s sentiment on the experience:

“Charlie and his family (other members have since been added!) are referred to periodically during Sunday and Wednesday services, while still shots are broadcast online.”

Two of the “other members since added.”

Capturing the attention of the congregation, posts about Charlie have been shared on Facebook, including the highly anticipated opportunity to meet him (and other new stick-figure members) in person upon the easing of pandemic restrictions. “Finding humor in our current situation is just another coping strategy to bring a little laughter to our daily lives,” the Kim explains.

First Church of God sees the advantages technology can bring, having harnessed live streaming a year before the coronavirus complications. In the process of going “all online” in March, they discovered that a notable increase in Internet usage among area churches put strain on available bandwidth. Out of courtesy for their sisters and brothers in other congregations, and to be strategic concerning online capacity, they decided to move up their normal worship service time from 10:45 to 10:00 on Sunday mornings.

Of course, online worship services don’t reach everybody. The Winchester congregation knew this from the start of the coronavirus crisis. Thankfully, they recruited their four “congregational care teams” and several of their “life groups” to stay in touch regularly with members of the congregation, especially those over the age of sixty. Maintaining contact with these individuals has also provided opportunity to ensure those in need of groceries and other necessities receive them.

First Church of God in Winchester makes it clear, “While we have been forced out of our comfort zones in many ways during this time, God certainly has not! His is still an Almighty God who is faithful to see us through any circumstance. There are many positives we have seen despite the inability to gather for worship. We are reaching record numbers with our live streaming. We are hearing numerous reports of more time being spent in prayer and Bible study. Creativity is at an all-time high as we’ve sought new avenues of connecting with our congregation.”

They believe one of their beloved members, now sorely missed after passing away recently, said it best: “This has been an opportunity to “reset—a chance to change how we all live for the better.”

Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.

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