After the storm: Lima-area pastors weigh in on faith following the pandemic

LIMA — In March 2020, government officials nationwide announced a lockdown that shook the foundations of the country. Schools were transitioned to Zoom meetings; doctor’s appointments became telehealth; and some churches were asked to worship outdoors.

Gathering places across the region felt the shaking. In spite of all the questions, many found hope in a substance that is unseen: faith.

Now two years later, believers recalled the beginning of the pandemic and what life is like after.

Test of faith

New Life Christian Ministries, led by Pastor Damian Tibbs, said many believers experienced a testing of faith like never before. He said for many, the pandemic exposed where their faith level was truly at. Was their faith truly greater than any fear?

“Some thought they were living by faith, but fear kind of got the best of them,” Tibbs said. “I would say it kind of exposed the true faith level of those who are following Christ, and that is what fear does. Fear is a test of faith. We will all experience fear because we are not immune to it but depending on your level of faith is how you will respond.”

Pastor Janet Wend, of Cornerstone Church Lima, said that her church continued to share the message of Jesus Christ. Church leaders pointed their congregation towards Jesus in the midst of any fear they may have faced.

“He told us that in this life we will have tribulations, but take heart I have overcome the world,” Wend said. “We were constantly pointing people towards Jesus and the faith that they had in Him. If you keep your eyes on Him, you will stay in peace.”

The transition

When lockdowns were in effect, many transitioned to online church. According to Father Matt Keller, pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church in Glandorf, believers felt confused and hurt. Community members began to miss gathering and expressing their faith in God.

Churches like In Faith Ministries began to come together again as soon as they were able. Pastor Michael Lyons said they made the necessary accommodations as they begin to meet again.

“The Bible says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” Lyons said. “What we hear is what we tend to have faith in. We kept hearing how dangerous and deadly COVID was. That is what people started to believe in. My job was to let people know what God said.”

Faith over fear

A few local churches continued to meet during the pandemic and after, to be a safe place for those looking for answers.

Anástasis Church, pastored by Tyler and Hannah Perry, opened eight months after the shutdown. On Nov. 1, 2020, the Perrys opened their doors to anyone desiring to worship.

Tyler shared that his congregation grew and found hope in their faith throughout the pandemic. Members of the community felt excited to gather again after months of isolation. The pandemic brought to the surface fears many people buried or disacknowledged. The Perrys preached the message of peace and hope in Jesus Christ.

Anástasis Church took precautions but did not close the doors to people in need of belonging. Perry said the pandemic created a lot of questions in the hearts of many people often wondering what was next or how would things turn out. He has found that many have found healing, peace and hope after embracing a relationship with Jesus.

“I saw people that already knew God lean on him even more,” Perry said. “Then I saw new people come to faith in God. For people that already had faith, it grew even stronger and people that had no faith started to explore it. So much fear was out there during the pandemic. For Christians, faith is always the only option.”

New believers

Following a true storm in life, people begin to evaluate where they are. After the pandemic, some believers experienced new depths as they leaned more on their faith, and some decided to believe again.

“One of the things we found that was really cool is that majority of our church has grown not just from Christians who are looking for a space but people who were trying to figure out who God is,” Perry said. “We have seen a lot of fresh new converts to Christianity or people who grew up in church and did not really have a place.”

Mary Deringer of The Wapak Church said just before the pandemic, their lead pastor shared a message titled “This changes everything.”

“If we really put our faith in the resurrection, it truly changes the trajectory of our life,” Deringer said.

The message before simply prepared the congregation for what was to come before they even knew. Deringer said she has noticed a significant increase in the number of believers, new and old.

Moving forward

Now that churches are fully gathering again, many are beginning to live again after the storm, leaning on the one thing that has kept them above all else. Perry encouraged people to cling to faith even in the temptation to fear.

“Having an emotion of fear is not wrong,” Perry said. “But God did not design us to live in fear. He wants us to experience his peace and relinquish our control and relinquish the desire to dictate the outcome. The best way to find peace is to throw our hands open and say, ‘God, you do what you want to do in my life, whether it is this pandemic or whether it is, our own personal battles or struggles.’ My advice would be to relax, pray and trust in the one who knows what you need before you even ask.”

New Life Christian Ministries hopes to continue to be a light and shine to aid those facing any trial or endure any obstacle.

“The key is to show people He is what we have been missing all along,” Tibbs said.

Reach Precious Grundy at 567-242-0351.