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Spiritual Sustenance

The Rev. Elizabeth Bailey-Mitchell: 'A new opportunity to reach people'

By By Sarah E. Reynolds | Apr 30, 2020
Courtesy of: Elizabeth Bailey-Mitchell The Rev. Elizabeth Bailey-Mitchell serves United Methodist congregations in Searsmont and Union.

Searsmont — Our series of interviews with Waldo County clergy explores how their congregations are finding new ways to worship, to connect with each other and the wider community, and to find hope and encouragement in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clergy interested in participating in the series should contact me at sreynolds@villagesoup.com or 338-3334.

With multiple services a week via videoconference, the Rev. Elizabeth Bailey-Mitchell said, "All of that Zooming keeps me quite busy."

For the past three years, she has served the United Methodist Church in Searsmont, and the one in Union as well. Each congregation has a Sunday morning worship service on Zoom: Searsmont at 8:45 and Union at 10:45. She keeps the two services separate, the pastor explained, because each congregation has its own joys and concerns to share during the respective services.

In addition, each congregation has a Zoom-based chat session dubbed "Coffee Break," with Union members checking in at 8 a.m. Wednesday and Searsmont at 8 a.m. Friday. And there's a joint devotional session at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Bailey-Mitchell was concerned that older members and others without computers also have a way to connect, so she set up a devotional time via telephone conference call. The first teleconference platform she tried did not work out, but she will be trying again with a call-in time for Union Monday morning, and for Searsmont Tuesday morning.

The call-in sessions will begin with sharing prayer concerns, then there will be a scripture reading and reflection, she said.

Bailey-Mitchell stressed that all are welcome to the various Zoom gatherings and the conference call, but for participants' protection, teleconference numbers and Zoom invitations must be requested by emailing the pastor at elizabethbaileymitchell@gmail.com.

Perhaps even more important than the continuity of worship the various virtual gatherings provide is the chance to be together as a community, she said. The first Coffee Break sessions made clear people's hunger to connect. "Oh, my gosh, when I first set it up, people were right there," she said, though attendance has dropped since, as people have found other activities.

She said she wants to branch out to Facebook Live and YouTube as well, to provide as many options for church members and those searching to find spiritual support.

In addition, both churches are updating their member directories, which will be mailed to members soon, she said. The Searsmont church is small and people tend to reach out to each other informally, while the Union church, being larger, uses a phone tree system to make sure everyone is checked on periodically.

Bailey-Mitchell offered her knowledge of Zoom to help the Searsmont Board of Selectmen begin using the application for its meetings. When the Union church had its first Coffee Break chat session, she invited the coordinator of the town's food pantry to speak.

She said both churches have sewing groups that are making fabric masks for food service workers at the the Methodist camp in Winthrop, who are preparing meals for children in the Monmouth and Winthrop areas.

She said new people have logged on for the Zoom services of both churches. "We're very happy for that ... we're pleased with this new opportunity to reach people online." Once it is possible to come together for worship again, she said, she would like to livestream worship services, to use the internet as a new way to reach people.

For her Easter sermon, Bailey-Mitchell turned not to the electrifying gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection, but to an Old Testament prophet. "I felt that Jeremiah's message was one of hope and one that stretches back thousands of years," she said. In the passage she chose, Jeremiah 31:1-6, The prophet's message, she said, is that God loves his people "with an everlasting love" and will bring his people through the time of trial, and once again, they will plant and harvest, and once again, they will make music and dance.

"Our churches are praying for our communities and for people across the globe," she said.

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