ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – Pastor Matt Shamblin wants to be extra cautious with the most vulnerable of his congregation during the coronavirus outbreak.
He also wants to make sure protection doesn’t turn into forgotten.
The lead pastor at Rose Hill Baptist Church said his staff and church members are making a concerted effort to make sure that doesn’t happen. The staff has been told to make at least five calls or personal visits per day to senior members, and deacons and other members have joined with them.
“We’re serving a population that’s one of the oldest in the country,” he said, where the 2019 U.S. Census showed 19.5 percent of the population is 65 or older. “They may not have the internet or be technical savvy. We’re ministering to people the old-fashioned way.”
By senior citizens, Shamblin said he’s mostly catering to those in their 80s and 90s. He even has one precious woman who recently celebrated her 102nd birthday and “she’s as sharp as you or me,” he said.
The coronavirus is said to be potentially deadly to those over 60, especially if they already have comprised health issues.
“We’ve got some in their 60s and 70s who are young enough that they are tech-savvy enough,” Shamblin said. “Some of them still carry a flip phone like it’s a badge of honor.”
However, he closed off church last Sunday because of the possibility of someone spreading the virus to those in the dangerous age groups because if the church doors were open, they would have been the first ones to find a seat.
Instead, they did a live stream of the service and made DVD copies for those who may not have internet. They delivered many of the DVDs – along with a plate of homemade cookies – to their oldest and most beloved members. And they called many of them as well to “just talk to people, seeing what they need.”
What they have found in some cases is they just were happy to hear from anyone because the church is one of the social outlets for that age group.
“They go to the vitality center, the grocery store, the post office, to doctor appointments and to church,” Shamblin said. “Most of that has been taken away from them. With all of that taken off the table, they have no social interaction to keep them connected.”
In many cases, they just wanted to talk to their visitors either in person or on the phone, Shamblin said. Some even asked how they could get their tithe to the church.
While visiting or calling seems simple enough, Shamblin said it is the church being the church. “The church is not about a building or a meeting,” he said. “I’m seeing more openness to the Word than I’ve ever seen.
In a private Facebook group, Shamblin asked the young adults in the church if they would be willing to make deliveries of groceries or medicine or run errands for the senior group, and he had “a massive outpouring” of response.
Even the role of the pastor has changed, Shamblin said. “The push recently has focused on the pulpit, but now there’s a greater emphasis on pastoring than ever before.”
As he directs the members at Rose Hill, Shamblin is finding a willing congregation that intends to be the church especially during this time of vulnerability when the only visual of the building comes online.
“We’re all learning,” Shamblin said. “Nobody is prepared for this. The instructions we’re hearing are untried. What I found from talking to pastors from Somerset to Pikeville are pastors who are innovating.”