The “city that never sleeps” has become unusually quiet since several measures have been put in place to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus, COVID-19. The Greater New York Conference (GNYC) rose to the challenge of implementing measures to protect its more than 30,000 members while keeping alive its mission of making disciples by touching hearts and changing lives with the everlasting gospel. They did this through the use of technology and media, as they continued to operate in the best and most responsible way.
Even before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first executive order on March 7, the GNYC leadership started devising plans to respond to the crisis. On March 8, Henry Beras, GNYC president, formed a COVID-19 Working Group. The group was tasked with keeping the members and workers of the conference informed, providing assistance in case of immediate needs, as well as informing members about the conference’s response to government regulations.
The committee met on Tuesday, March 10, and by 4:00 p.m. a meeting convened with all departmental directors. The next step was to organize a Zoom meeting with all pastors, teachers, office staff, and other conference workers two days later. All conference events were canceled until further notice. At a later meeting, it was decided that this would be in effect until June 24.
By Thursday morning it became evident that rapid changes were taking place. This proved to be the order of things, as with each briefing of the state’s governor, new measures were put in place and advisories issued. In response, churches were encouraged to stream their services and meetings or use other virtual modes of convening.
Those who chose in-person gatherings were advised to limit attendance to no more than 50 percent of capacity and take other precautions such as exercising physical distancing of six feet at a minimum. This was later reduced to meetings of no more than 10 people. Finally, the state advised churches to place a stay on all public worship services until at least March 31. Almost all churches conducted virtual meetings of one kind or another.
On March 20, Governor Cuomo’s executive order mandated that all non-essential workers stay at home. In response, the GNYC leadership changed the previous plan of staggering days for staff to report for in-office work, to closing the office and having the staff work from home. Public worship services were also suspended. The closures are subject to change based on the fluidity of the crisis. The Adventist Book Center has remained open with limited hours.
The GNYC and Northeastern Conference Adventist Community Services (ACS) and Family Ministries departments are working together to provide assistance to members and the community. The ACS runs a food-pantry grant program for churches that have an active community food program. The ACS established a call-in number for anyone needing prayer, counseling, and information on the location and hours of the food pantry. The phones were staffed by volunteers from both conferences.
The GNYC Multi-Ethnic Ministries department has adopted strategies to meet the needs of their sectors in handling the crisis. They developed many new and creative initiatives—Sabbath School, worship, and prayer meeting on Zoom; youth Week-of-Prayer via Skype, Facebook Live, Webex, and YouTube channels, Instagram Pray and Praise, WhatsApp groups (for church membership, leaders, and small groups), among others. Mindful of the older population who do not use the computer, some churches have set up call lines to connect with them. Anecdotal reports from the ethnic groups indicate that viewers watching the streamed services came from as far as India, South Korea, Nigeria, the Middle East, England, as well as from other parts of the United States.