Mark Stephenson, Pastor
Following the lead of senior pastor Reverend Kathy Cooper Ledesma at Hollywood United Methodist Church, the HUMC faith community (which includes Harmony Toluca Lake) chose to begin online worship services on March 15. That first Sunday, with a safe gathering of only 10 individuals, we were able to incorporate clergy, the worship band and others inside the sanctuary to create a worship experience in advance and then share it. Although our hearts deeply yearned to have a public worship service, our minds won out in deciding to proactively protect the best interests of everyone. Indeed, better safe than sorry.
Once the “Safer at Home” mandate went into effect on Thursday evening, March 19, we shifted into another gear — in full support of Mayor Garcetti’s prudent directive. Since that time, the HUMC clergy team has participated in a holistic approach for one worship experience to share on Sunday mornings with both of HUMC’s campuses (Hollywood and Harmony Toluca Lake) via our respective Facebook pages. After the premiere of each service, individuals are able to watch the recordings at their leisure.
In addition to no longer having public worship services, we informed all groups at the Harmony and Hollywood campuses that meetings would be canceled until further notice. These weekday meetings were not only church-related, but also constituted gatherings for outside groups. For instance, we had to cancel the “Run, Hide, Fight” presentation to be made by LAPD. Fortunately, we’ve been able to arrange online Zoom meetings for the majority of our groups, and made that same arrangement, as well, with the non-affiliated church group through the church’s account.
Unfortunately, we’ve had to temporarily discontinue our outreach for persons in need. Not being able to personally assist the homeless has been heartbreaking. Harmony loves its outreach, so we’re doing what we can at a distance.
Personally, working from home has presented its own set of challenges. For someone who has been at the church on an almost daily basis previous to all of this happening, I miss being onsite, which included opportunities to meet with individuals in person for whatever needs would arise in their lives. The interpersonal connection is different now — being a layer removed in the online experience. It’s like each of us is in a bubble.
The first week at home was definitely a learning curve. It wasn’t easy to gain a steady rhythm to go from “what was” to “what is.” And immediately we were scrambling to understand various technologies (e.g., Zoom, Facebook Live) while creating opportunities for connection within the faith community. These needs had to be met on what was seemingly a moment’s notice. And we are still figuring things out.
Over time, the impact of the pandemic has taken its toll — from once being somewhat removed as a “them” situation to becoming an “us” situation. Prayer requests for parishioners, loved ones and members of the local Toluca Lake community went from a trickle of every few days to now being received daily. And what has been the “six degrees of separation” has now become one to two degrees of separation in knowing someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus or has died because of it.
The support within the faith community has been wonderful. Everyone is pulling together and willing to help out as needed for grocery runs and errands.
When times permits and as appropriate, I’ve taken social-distancing walks with some Harmony attendees and neighbors. And I’ve called and contacted each person who attends Harmony, making sure they are doing well and seeing if they have any needs, prayer requests and the like.
Another way of connection is by recording short segments to post on Facebook. For example, one recording was sharing a message I had received from a Harmony attendee. The question asked was, “What other curves do you need to flatten in this season?” I then provided the answers, such as “Flatten the curve of fear with faith. Flatten the curve of worry with peace. Flatten the curve of despair with hope.”
I’ve been quite impressed by the support shown by the Toluca Lake community, in spite of our doors being temporarily closed. All of us are extremely grateful for those in the area going above and beyond the call of duty as essential businesses, and especially to Trader Joe’s, which I frequent. TJ’s was on the ball in quick fashion, and what they’ve done is much appreciated.
Also, I’d say the Toluca Lake community has pulled together marvelously to follow the guidelines as recommended by the governor and mayor. That says a lot about the character of the neighborhood. We’re stronger together!
Lastly, the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far has been not being able to experience life and worship together in person as a faith community. That said, it has provided me great insight into how those who are shut-in must feel. The personal feelings of “I’m not doing enough” can be overwhelming; however, at the end of each day, I realize that I’m working just as hard and doing my absolute best under the circumstances. Much has been learned, and it will be interesting to see what opportunities and new ways of connecting with one another continue after all of this is said and done.
Return to The State of the Village.