Three Churches in Rural Tennessee Become One in Quarantine
Back in March, when Ravenscroft Chapel in Brighton, St. Anne’s in Millington and St. Mathew’s in Covington learned they couldn’t host in-person services any longer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they knew they were given a special opportunity.
“At first we didn’t how to proceed with suspended services,” said Richard Vandergrift of Ravenscroft Chapel.
“All we knew was that we had to try to do something to serve our congregations.”
The good news was that the three churches had a history of working together before the pandemic. All were very involved with Thanksgiving Blessings, a project of packing food to feed families associated with the Carl Perkins Foundation for the Prevention of Child Abuse. They also have a history of sharing talented musicians with one another to enhance their Sunday services. Additionally, Richard Vandergrift holds a degree in computer science and knows a little something about technology and filming. Father Don Brooks does as well.
The first collective service featuring Father Roberts and Father Brooks was filmed on March 19. Clergy from each parish take turns hosting so parishioners can feel at home.
“I’m on the recording and prep side – I actually get to see the sermon as its filmed and then on Sundays at my leisure,” said Vandergrift. “Views online are as high as 128 people, which is fantastic!”
Ravenscroft typically has 18 people attend services in person regularly. St. Mathew’s and St. Ann’s see 30 people in person each week during normal times.
Father Don Brooks says he has a friend from England who is now watching. “We reach many folks from all walks of life and church backgrounds,” he added.
Now the three churches are always planning, meeting regularly, for what to do next and continue to let their churches know that nothing has changed. According to Father Brooks, the key is working together to create a connection for all.
“Since we were given the order to close in-person services we knew we needed to provide life and light for the people,”
“I’ve been through several emergencies in my life and career, and to see the resilience and creativity from all three churches has been amazing.”
As for advice for others looking to do something similar, Vandergrift says “Jump in and just get started – never be afraid to believe what the church stands for.”
“You aren’t going to have a new tree in your garden unless you plant a seed,” added Father Don Brooks. “Look for the possibilities of cohesion and feed on each other’s strengths.”
Jeff Hulett, originally from Chicago, Illinois, has a BA in Journalism with a concentration in Advertising from the University of Memphis. He spent nine years working in communications at Church Health and is co-founder of their annual benefit concert Rock for Love. Besides working with Jeff Hulett PR, Jeff also does freelance PR and consulting for Key Public Strategies. Jeff lives in midtown with his wife, Annie, and two daughters, Ella and Beatrice. He loves spending time with family, playing music, playing sports and promoting Memphis as a great place to live, work and play.