Louisiana Pastor: Pandemic No Surprise to God, Church Must Stay on Mission

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Southeast

By Kim Ousley

Rev. Dr. Bartholomew “Bart” M. Riggins, senior pastor of Faith Chapel Church of God in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is aware that his congregation is living through unprecedented times. No one he encounters has experienced anything like it. “No one really has the history on anything like this,” he comments. Nevertheless, his congregation viewing itself “as a fellowship, not just on Sunday mornings,” has stepped up in a big way concerning ministry during the pandemic.

Food needs for kids and their families has been critical with schools closed. Access to food is at a premium. Dr. Murelle Harrison, executive director and main coordinator of the church’s food giveaways, has been instrumental in setting up locations for those in need to pick up food. Strategies are in place to be an outwardly focused fellowship in the local neighborhood by helping with food insecurity.

“One of the problems with COVID-19 is that there were no daytime meals,” Riggins explains. “We just completed twenty weeks with other churches in the area and the National Guard to help the school system.” Riggins says they started out serving meals to 200 kids and, by the end of the twenty weeks, it had grown to 600.

Pastor Bart and Joy Riggins with missionaries Peggy and Steven Beverly

A caravan was established to get the food from the schools and deliver the packages into the neighborhoods. “That was just in one neighborhood, the Gardere neighborhood, a few miles from our church,” he explains. There were three apartments that became staging areas for food giveaways.

In the midst of these efforts, the church is also working on a new building to house up to 330 visitors unlike the 180 maximum seating capacity at the current building. So far, the outside of the building is done, giving them time to finish the inside at their own pace. With much planning and strategy, Riggins noted that funds still come in for this building project. “The building is a beacon of hope in our community, a tangible sign that God is still moving,” says Riggins. “This is something to celebrate.”

The church has focused on reaching out to others during this season of isolation and physical distancing. Riggins pointed out to his congregation that this may have never happened in their lifetime, but it’s not new to God. He is still the same God who is with us. “I want them to exercise their evangelistic skills; touch your neighborhood,” he exhorts each person. “My wife carries a poster board on her walks through the neighborhood with words of encouragement on them.” People come out and want to talk about Jesus with her. Folks come out to sit on their porches or in driveways to chat at a safe distance.

Flock Care Ministry is helping the congregation stay connected even as it connects with the neighborhood. Riggins established a handful of elders and ministers to check in on a group of people they are assigned. “Flock Care Ministry,” he shares, “developed from a collage of leaders in our church.” Rev. Barbara Williams coordinates the program assigning each person’s contacts. These leaders reach out to five to ten families once a month. Through this ministry, “the congregation will have a leader to call in time of need.”

Riggins has been reading Rev. Dr. Rolland Daniels’ book, Church in the Middle, with the intent to implement some of the strategies mentioned. Riggins didn’t want the church to become complacent during this pandemic, but be more wide-scale in serving within the community.

“People are talking to each other more,” observes Riggins. Even though there is isolation and distancing, he is aware “this is a fine time to share the gospel.”

Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

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.

*Feature (top) photo: neighborhood food distribution by Faith Chapel Church of God amid the pandemic.

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