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Churches reach beyond the pews to connect with members

Big Cypress First Baptist Church Pastor Salaw Hummingbird provides a sermon Easter morning, April 12, on the banks of a canal in Big Cypress. It was shown live on Facebook. (Big Cypress First Baptist/Facebook)

The advent of the coronavirus has caused billions of people in the world to adjust their lives to what has become a new normal. Governments, schools and businesses have been drastically affected and have evolved with social distancing rules.

Since stay-at-home orders began, tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. Schools have transitioned to online learning. Churches have had to adapt, too. Most places of worship have been closed to services since mid-to-late March. Many churches, including some whose congregations include Seminoles, are reaching their members by broadcasting their services on Facebook or YouTube.

“Everyone is just kind of taking it one day at a time,” said Big Cypress First Baptist Church Pastor Salaw Hummingbird.

For the resurrection service on Easter morning April 12, Pastor Hummingbird led an outdoor sunrise gathering from the banks of a canal on the Big Cypress Reservation. Many in attendance wore masks and either stayed in their vehicles or stood next to them along a dirt road. The service was shown on the church’s Facebook page and drew hundreds of views.

In his sermon, Pastor Hummingbird provided assurance.

“Even in our moments of our darkness, even in the moments of our life that we feel that there is no hope or we feel like we’re up against a situation that we can’t prevail against, but we’ve got to realize that God has never left anyone of us. He knows in this very moment where we’re at, about this darkest moment that we’re in right now. He hasn’t forgot about us,” he said, adding that God “will rescue us from this tragedy that we’re in.”

The service included music from Jonah Cypress on guitar along the canal banks. He sang “Jesus Paid It All” and “Were You There” with the sun ascending behind him.

Big Cypress New Testament Baptist Church Pastor Arlen Payne provides a sermon on Facebook during the resurrection day. (New Testament/Facebook)

At Big Cypress New Testament Baptist Church, Pastor Arlen Payne has been using Facebook and YouTube to broadcast sermons on the Big Cypress Reservation. He also stays in touch with members via phone and wants the church experience to return to pre-coronavirus conditions.

“We miss everybody and miss the fellowship,” said Pastor Payne.

During New Testament’s resurrection sermon broadcast on Facebook, Pastor Payne said the day’s meaning doesn’t change despite the conditions.
“…we can still praise the Lord and give him glory for that glorious day he rose from the dead,” he said.

On the Brighton Reservation, Pastor Billy Blomberg continues to call and text the members of All Family Ministries Church for well-being updates, prayer requests and for sharing Bible scriptures to help uplift them.

“We’ll have to ask the Lord and trust Him to give us wisdom to deal with this,” said Pastor Blomberg when asked how he and his congregation were dealing with the effects of the coronavirus. “[The] ministry [exists] to help us encourage and support one another.”

Immokalee Seminole Baptist Church Pastor Josh LeadingFox on Facebook during service. (Immokalee Seminole Baptist/Facebook)

In Immokalee, Pastor Josh LeadingFox said during Immokalee First Seminole Baptist Church’s Easter service on Facebook that he spent part of the week gathering videos of worship music to show during the service.

With empty pews behind him, Pastor LeadingFox emphasized peace can be attained during turbulent times.

“…even when life is crazy and all these things going on around us and the fear that is built up inside of the country and all the things you’ve seen and heard from friends or on the news, whatever your situation is, I pray that you know that because He lives you can have peace, even in troubled times,” he said.

For communion, he suggested viewers use crackers and juice as substitutes for the usual communion wafers and wine.

Daniel Harris, the Chaplain for Public Safety, has worked with the Tribe since 1994. He, as is the case with all of the pastors, has strong relationships with many Tribal citizens.

“We are trying to be a positive influence,” said Chaplain Harris. “People feel authenticity and sense that.”

Senior Editor Kevin Johnson contributed to this story.

Aaron Tommie
Aaron has worked for the Tribe since 2015. He is inspired by people who are selfless, humble, and motivated. His family is the most important aspect of his life and is a die hard fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. He came to work for the Tribe to show his appreciation to his ancestors for the blessings Tribal citizens receive based on their foresight and the sacrifices they made. He loves mysteries and conspiracy theories and is a huge on a great story line or plot in something that is supposed to entertain him.