Beyond Bible Study: Classes Stay Social During Shutdown
During this time of extended shutdown, most Wilshire Sunday School classes are meeting for Bible study via Zoom or another online platform. Some classes have gone to great lengths to stay connected beyond their normal class time, offering virtual social events and enhancing their communication efforts.
For the Ithaka Class of young adults, social events were important before the pandemic and have continued during it. Co-director Luke Willson says, “Spending time together was not abnormal for our group, so we transitioned really easily. We all jumped headfirst into virtual connections.” In addition to dinnertime Zoom sessions where class members simply hang out, Ithaka member Molly Shepard organizes weekly “art nights.” She made an initial delivery of art supplies to class members, who gather via Zoom to paint together after viewing a tutorial at letsmakeart.com.
Odyssey, a class of single and married folks mostly under 40, offers Zoom socials twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday nights. Members eat together and then usually unwind by playing games. Both Odyssey and Ithaka have used Jackbox, an online game platform.
Food is a common theme for Odyssey. One gathering revolved around a “food challenge” where everyone had to use the same three ingredients in creating a meal. On one occasion, Odyssey invited Judy Yarbrough and Collin Yarbrough of Full Circle Bakery to lead a Zoom session on how to make their famous chocolate chip cookies.
Concordia Class has Zoom happy hours about once a month. “It’s literally like we’re all sitting around in one of our living rooms chatting,” says director Rick Hibbs. Once when the gathering fell on member Jane Alloway’s birthday, Hibbs surprised the class by personally delivering a cupcake and birthday candle to each member before the Zoom session.
Cord of Three Class director Mary Carver hosts a social event via Zoom each Thursday, alternating between an evening gathering with all members and a daytime session with just women. These are open-ended times for members to visit and catch up. Mary says, “People have been glad to have the opportunity to at least see faces and hear voices, even if we’re not able to hug each other’s necks.”
Carver says many Cord of Three members are “staying in a lot” and even distancing from family members, so any opportunity to connect is welcome. Mary says, “This is not nearly as good as getting together in person, but we are so grateful for the technology to be able to do this. It beats the heck out of nothing.”
Some classes have held socially distanced live events, although this has become less common recently as coronavirus numbers have spiked. In May, Odyssey threw a front-yard baby shower for members Ben and Rebecca Yarborough. Class co-director Candy McComb says, “We loved seeing each other in person! The hardest part was not hugging people, at least for those of us who are huggers.” Foundations of Faith had a drive-by celebration for member Robert Kung’s 93rd birthday, and Ithaka held a back-yard movie night.
In addition to Zoom, classes are using other forms of technology to communicate, often ramping up things they were doing before the pandemic like weekly emails and social media. Foundations of Faith enjoys daily devotionals from member Jim Hancock in its recently established Facebook group, and Luke Willson says Ithaka’s Facebook group chat has become more active during the pandemic.
Concordia’s Rick Hibbs started a group text-messaging thread with class members. “My creative outlet while the pandemic has been going on is cooking,” he says, “so I’m always making some kind of overly-elaborate dinner, and I’ll take a picture of it and send it to the class in the group text. That will often start this crazy chain of peoples’ reactions.” Hibbs also says he has had in-depth phone calls with a few class members during the shutdown — conversations that likely would have been short hallway chats in the pre-pandemic era.
Foundations of Faith Class co-director Dennis Smith says his class is intentional about calling members on the phone. “We have six callers that call every class member during the week to see if there are any needs and to get prayer requests. We rotate calling groups every week, so the callers don’t call the same person every week.”
Rick Hibbs explains his approach to Sunday School during COVID-19: “I think now it seems like it’s even more important just to be able to stay in touch with each other. I may be a little more deliberate about asking everyone in the class about something they mentioned in the past. I’m trying to be sure everyone not only feels like they have a chance to [speak], but are directly asked, ‘how are things going?’ … The social thing is just an extension of that, making sure everyone is engaged, they have what they need, that they feel like they’re still in contact with this group on a personal level.”
*Looking for a Sunday School class to visit? There are many more classes than just these mentioned. Email Carolyn Murray, Wilshire’s coordinator for congregational life. She’ll connect you with a class and help you get your hands on that all-important Zoom invite.