New Hope New York Thrives With Creative Thinking and Cooperative Giving

Pastor Mahlon Smith preaches to an empty sanctuary at New Hope Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y., on the first Sunday the church held services exclusively online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Submitted photo

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — “Intensive, pastoral, strategic thinking” is necessary to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic, said pastor Mahlon Smith of New Hope Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y.

But he doesn’t have to think about the church’s giving 10 percent of its offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together in local regions and throughout the world.

“That has become part of our DNA. Giving through the Cooperative Program is just part of who we are,” said Smith, who noted the church has several members who have served as missionaries with Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board. “The Cooperative Program is the single most effective and efficient way of doing missions. By our giving, we have a part in the overall missionary enterprise of God’s Kingdom. I tell the people it’s the way our missionaries are able to focus on God’s work rather than their own financial needs.”

Lately Smith also has been telling the New Hope Watertown congregation about the seasons of a tree’s life.

“In the spring you see buds, leaves coming on, a lot of life,” Smith said. “In the winter, the trees are bare. To the untrained eye, there is no life. But the tree’s roots are seeping deeper into the ground, finding nourishment and getting stronger, because in spring the wind will come.

“In this time of our church’s life when we can’t gather together in person, we’re experiencing a deeper growth. God is rooting us into Himself.”

Situated 30 miles south of the Canadian border, Watertown is 317 miles removed from the trauma of New York City, where more than 13,500 have died of COVID-19 as of May 2. Yet the potential weighs on most people, the pastor said.

“The people have really pulled together,” Smith said. “People are more cognizant of one another. With the busyness of life suspended, they are taking more time to come together via the telephone, notes and cards.

“It’s like the church is getting the chance to be the church. It’s the impulse — the calling — God gives us to be the church. I think that’s what’s making our church and many churches stronger. We’re getting back to being more purely focused on the things of God, being a community of followers of Christ, and getting the Gospel into the world that needs the hope of Christ.”

The church has selected a group of 17 who are responsible for keeping in touch each week with their portion of the 200 regular attenders. The pastor posts a five-minute “Morning Hope” devotional message six days a week on the church’s Facebook page, and online Sunday morning sermons have become more creative, with visuals and short videos to engage the audience that has nearly tripled since the pandemic started.

“It’s quite a challenge to pastor a church completely online,” Smith said. “I’ve learned how to conduct meetings by Zoom. It’s been a great experience, how we’ve seen God working in ways we had not expected.”

Sunday school classes and other small group gatherings also take place in a Zoom setting, and the pastor said he expects New Hope Watertown will continue to use Zoom regularly after social distancing requirements are lifted.

“We’re doing a lot of first-time things, doing a lot of already out-of-the-box thinking,” Smith said. “Our youth pastor has been very helpful with social media. There’s a lot of things I’ve had to learn to get up to speed on things.

“I’ve found myself more busy than ever before. I’m having to intensify my pastoral focus, being much more not only intentional but specific. So much of ministry is keeping in contact with people. And preaching to an empty auditorium has been a new experience.”

About half the congregation is affiliated in some way with nearby Fort Drum, the U.S. Army base which is home to the famed 10th Mountain Division.

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Source: Baptist Press