2020 – 2029
During the years of 2020-2029 an interim history of events impacting the Washington Avenue congregation will be maintained. At the end of the decade the material will be edited, consolidated and produced in a format consistent with the reporting of prior decades. For the most part, historical events affecting the congregation that occurred in the community, country and world at large will be captured in the final edition. Doing so will allow them to be seen from a wider perspective and their impact judged in a broader sense.
The new decade carries forward many of the activities that had been important in previous years. Evangelistic outreach continues to be a high profile effort and is seen on many fronts. Caring for and supporting each other continues to be a central focus, along with an ongoing awareness of the need to assist those who are less fortunate.
Washington Avenue is a diverse congregation and there are many interests to be addressed. While a complete listing of those things is not created at this point in the interim history, some examples are the very successful annual Ladies Day program, the yearly Vacation Bible School, our Summer Intern Program and the ever popular Summer Education Series. Obviously, many important things do not appear on this short list; their omission does in no way diminish their importance. Attention to other things will emerge as the decade unfolds and will be included at the appropriate time.
While most of the world did not know it was happening, in December 2019 a devastating virus emerged in the China city of Wuhan. The disease became the major story defining 2020 world events, including the activities of the Washington Avenue congregation. The virus, commonly identified as Covid-19, impacted church worship formats, the entire scope of church life and work, and dramatically changed member interactions. At the end of 2020, the number of reported virus cases was greater than 80 million worldwide and the death toll had passed 1,750,000. In America the known cases exceeded 19 million and more than 330 thousand people had died by the time the year ended. Closer to home, some of those infected were among the Washington Avenue members and three of the congregation’s members died. This short interim history will provide some of the details of how the congregation responded to the challenges and successes of this adverse environment as it moved through 2020 telling the story of Jesus and supporting each other as we lived as Christians.
In late 2019 Stephen Rogers announced that he would be retiring from his role as the primary pulpit minister for the Washington Avenue congregation. After more than 34 years (1985-2020) of faithfully proclaiming the Word of God to the congregation, reaching out to lost souls, skillfully enhancing the member’s Biblical knowledge when teaching Bible classes, tirelessly addressing the needs of the congregation’s members, performing countless wedding, and yes, sadly conducting member’s funerals, he preached his closing sermon on January 26, 2020. During his tenure he was a key contributor to the leadership of Washington Avenue while serving jointly as minister and elder during the 2007-2019 period. The congregation honored both Stephen and Vicky’s long service and expressed their love and appreciation during a retirement reception.
On September 1st, the congregation’s ministerial assignments were realigned. David Rogers became the congregations primary Pulpit Minister. Alan Bush’s responsibilities were modified to include the joint position of Senior Life and Counseling Minister and Education Minister. Recruiting to fill the new joint position of Youth Minister and Fellowship Minister was started, but the position had not been filled at year end.
By late February it was clear that the Covid-19 virus would make 2020 a dramatically different kind of year.
The Governor and Mayors throughout Indiana (as well as other states in the country) began to put in place non-essential activity restrictions. These restrictions fell in the “shelter in place, social distancing and wearing a mask” area. At their strictest points, if it was not an essential activity (as defined by the guidelines) people were restricted from participating in the function. Public and private schools were closed. Business activity was dramatically curtailed; restaurants closed, large gathering (including church services) was limited, and sporting events and other such activities were cancelled. Attendance to non-essential events was eliminated or restricted to exceedingly small numbers.
For the first time since moving into the Washington Avenue church building and gathering for the inaugural worship service on March 29, 1969, there was no worship service at 4001 Washington Avenue on March 22, 2020. For 2,598 consecutive Sundays Christians had met to worship at the building. During that time, the building had never been closed to Sunday worship. Even in the worst of weather (and the winters of 1977 and 1978 brought blizzards that shut down the city) the doors were open to members who lived within walking distance to assemble for worship. Covid-19 broke the chain of uninterrupted Sunday worship assemblies at 4001 Washington Avenue. In response to the activity curtailments mentioned in the above paragraph, meeting in the building for Sunday Morning worship was suspended, starting on March 22nd. During the suspension worship service was conducted virtually. In building Sunday morning worship was resumed on May 24th and both in person and virtual worship services were conducted. Sunday Morning Bible Study classes were suspended from March 22, 2020, until June 6, 2021. Sunday Evening in building worship services were suspended from March 22, 2020, until April 5, 2021. During the suspension, virtual evening worship services were conducted. Wednesday in building Bible Study was suspended from March 18th to May 27th, 2020. Virtual study sessions were conducted during this period and in building assembling resumed on May 27th.
Communication was one of the more difficult challenges facing the congregation during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The normal modes of oral announcements, paper bulletin publication and distribution, and face-to-face member interaction at on-site worship and Bible study assemblies was severely compromised by the regulatory restrictions imposed on large event assemblies. This critical challenge was addressed virtually. The congregation was kept informed through Live Stream worship updates, electronic digest messages, the use of Zoom meetings to address special interest events, and individual member interactions. The intense effort of the leadership to use all these assets to communicate the changing protocols necessary to navigate the journey through the pandemic resulted in the congregation remaining viable. Though difficult, keeping the congregation informed was achieved and the work of the congregation, for the most part, stayed on target.
Executing the virus protective protocols was not easy. Shifting from “in building assemblies” to virtual gatherings to comply with the various regulatory requirements was a daunting task and required substantial adjustments. The Live Stream team worked diligently to match technology with congregational needs. Ministers and class teachers adjusted presentation styles, formats were modified, and members acclimated to “at home worshiping.” Despite the challenges, worshiping God and studying the Bible went on without crippling interruption.
Covid-19 disrupted many activities, but zoom, and similar virtual technologies, saved the day in many instances. Virtual meetings were scheduled to continue the Ladies Bible Class, Seniors Devotionals (and fellowship), Teen Devotionals, Leadership and Congregational Meetings, selected Bible School Classes, and a host of other impromptu activities. The annual Western Kentucky Youth Camp fund raising auction occurred, generating $8,585 via a Zoom event. Face to face Personal Evangelism continued and, when appropriate, was augmented by virtual technology. The Annual Fall Bible Series was presented using virtual technology. Regrettably, not all critical activities could be replaced with electronic technology. Western Kentucky Youth Camp sessions, traveling to Summer Youth Series locations, Ladies Day festivities, and periodic Congregational Fellowships were casualties of the virus.
Despite the Covid related restrictions, the Summer Intern program remained intact. To be sure, it was different, and many activities were curtailed; nonetheless, attention was given to the important task of helping the youth group (and younger kids) continue their development and growth in service to the Master.
The congregation’s Bible Correspondence Course ministry was, at year end, being transitioned into a broader effort administered by the World Bible School organization. While the “in house” ministry had, over the years, successfully reached many students and helped them learn of Jesus, it was recognized that a partnership with WBS would open opportunities for greater outreach and more effectively utilize congregational resources. The partnership and realignments would facilitate reaching more students while strengthening the overall evangelistic outreach of the Washington Avenue congregation. The team of dedicated member volunteers who administered the correspondence course outreach program was in the process of being expanded to meet the anticipated increase in students and better support their learning and development needs.
The pandemic did not significantly alter the congregation’s support of its mission partners; no matter where they were around the world. While Covid-19 most surely impacted the lives and work of individuals and congregations being supported by Washington Avenue, member commitment at Washington Avenue assured that funding promised would be available during difficulties of 2020. The support of the small Queen City congregation in Cincinnati went on as planned, although the “face to face” interactions with Queen City church families was interrupted by the Covid-19 restrictions.
The virus devastated the world’s economies and reached into the Washington Avenue church family. Despite that harsh reality, the Washington Avenue members gave generously to assure that financial commitments of the congregation were met. Member contributions reached 92 percent of goal and overall projected total income closed at 90 percent of target. Because of the pandemic related restrictions that limited some programing, along with other modifications to overall spending, total expenditures were significantly below the forecast, closing the year at 77% of budget. On balance, despite the cruelty of the Covid-19, events in 2020 did not alter the strong financial position of the Washington Avenue congregation.
During 2020 there were 4 baptisms, 3 requests for prayers, 4 Christians placed membership with the congregation and 2 individuals were restored. The Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted the congregation in numerous ways, some of which are reflected in these numbers.
Two Thousand Twenty at Washington Avenue will be remembered for many things. For example, disrupted member interactions, missed opportunities, altered assemblies, empty pews, loneliness as members “sheltered in place,” the struggles members endured as they dealt with virus infections, the death of some members attributed to the disease, the annoyance and inconvenience of wearing masks…and this is just a short list of the difficult challenges that may come to mind. But there was an upside. God was always there taking care of the church family. His hand was seen in the ways members helped each other, the unknown horrors He kept away, the blessings (some not recognized) He put in lives, the opportunities to make a positive difference in so many unexpected situations, and the comfort of knowing that God always “had our back.” We will not forget 2020…as we move ahead being a stronger church family for having traveled the difficult journey.