As a pastor, one thing that you never want to see is a church full of empty chairs or empty pews. A local business owner led in an effort to surprise and encourage their lead pastor and staff recently. Teri Harris Julian of Mooresville was inspired by a few Facebook posts where a pastor or priest had put printed photos of their congregants on the pews to help them stay connected to their members who are all now worshiping at home on digital formats. The earliest news of this kind of gesture came in early March from Italy’s Lombardy region, where Father Giuseppe Corbari sent out a message to his church to send in photos.

The Peninsula People in the Pews photo effort was coordinated by Julian as she and her family privately contacted church members through social media, who then contacted other members in order to gather photos of more than 580 members’ faces to print out and mount on sanctuary chairs to surprise Pastor Dye.

Therefore, on April 26, Pastor Daniel Dye of Peninsula Baptist Church on Brawley School Road thanked his congregation during his Facebook Live sermon for the very encouraging gesture of seeing so many church members’ faces in the chairs that he has faced empty for the six weeks prior.

“It makes me kind of warm inside to remember that even though we are spread out right now, that we know where we belong, and that we do look forward to the day that we can come back together again, as it says in Psalms 122:1. We are excited for the day when we can say come back into the House of the Lord,” said Dye.

In fact, several of his previous sermons had focused on how to remain spiritually connected while being socially distant, a struggle for many in all walks of life over the previous weeks.

Pastor Dye also said that he had been able to walk through the chairs and pray over each family represented in the photos and encouraged any who would like to be added to email him a photo and he would take care of its placement and also praying for them.

Julian insists that the effort was a group one.

“In hoping to bless others, I often find that I also receive encouragement. This project reminded me about what an awesome fellowship we enjoy at church,” said Julian. “I received lots of messages from members who were excited to take part, so it was really Jesus-therapy for me and my family who helped me. The personal losses of ordinary people in this pandemic are real… loss of loved ones, loss of employment and much needed income, loss of group fellowship and loss of personal freedom to move about… are challenging everyone right now. But we are not in this alone. We also pray for those on the front-lines of this pandemic, as well as those who are trying to lead us through it. I hope that individuals reaching out to their friends and neighbors in love and concern will continue long after this virus declines,” Julian shared.

Though Peninsula Baptist has had a live feed of the pastor’s sermons on the church’s Facebook page and in an archive on the church website for some time, they had not produced a weekly complete online worship service until the pandemic challenged the membership. Over 1,400 views were recorded on Easter Sunday morning of the 9:30 a.m. service, which now includes a live praise and worship time before the sermon begins. There has also been interest from families who are planning to move to the area, who are able to begin connecting with church staff and members in advance of their arrivals postponed by the Covid-19 Stay At Home order in North Carolina, it was shared.

So, while buildings are currently closed to large gatherings, thousands of “family churches” are being opened in homes across the state through digital media.

Currently, the church website www.peninsulabaptist.com has a free downloadable resource by author John Piper, “Coronavirus and Christ” on its main page. Scroll down and you will also find a link to the Online Kids Church from 7-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and a weekly live Online Prayer Gathering from 8-8:20 p.m. on Wednesdays. Regular Sunday morning service is at 9:30 a.m. via the live church website link at https://peninsulabaptist.online.church/, the Peninsula Baptist Church’s Facebook page, or on Roku and Apple TV devices.

Peninsula Baptist Church is at 687 Brawley School Road in Mooresville. More details can be found on the website at www.peninsulabaptist.com.

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