Story by KJ Burkley
Photos by Kaitlyn Clink
Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church of Waco has stood the test of time, continuing to support the community as a place of worship and a place of service for Waco. Greater Ebenezer has called 919 Dutton Ave. home for over a century.
The church has faced many trials in its 105-year history, but the global pandemic caused worship to go virtual, a never-before-seen challenge for Greater Ebenezer.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck 2020, causing Greater Ebenezer to shift worship to online services via Facebook. All throughout the summer services went virtual; these services a
“It was really hard for me to not have personal contact with the church family,” Jennings said. “It was hard for me especially because I wasn’t able to be present with every church youth to give them encouraging words during this time.”
For Jennings, she anticipated the return to Greater Ebenezer, practicing her normal Sunday morning routine every week.
“Being at church to worship is so different,” Jennings said. “When I was worshipping at home every Sunday I got everything together and I dressed as if I was going to church. Every Sunday I waited for Pastor Burkley to let us know when we could come back to worship together.”
After three and a half months of quarantine and virtual services, Greater Ebenezer opened its doors to church members on the first Sunday of September. With masks on and social distancing, the faithful members of Greater Ebenezer welcomed each other with bright spirits and friendly elbow touches.
When Jennings returned to the church, she felt like she had not missed a beat. “The first Sunday I came back to church, it was different,” Jennings said. “When I walked in I didn’t know what to expect. Naturally, I wanted to be safe, so at the beginning of service, I just began to pray. After that it completely felt different. It felt like I was in church. Ever since then, I have prayed that the Lord would take care of me and our church family, and I then completely forget my worries about pandemic.”
While church members were encouraged by the brief period of time they could meet in person again, currently Greater Ebenezer meets online as COVID cases in McLennan County have shot up.
However, Greater Ebenezer has come up with creative ways to make up for many in-person activities that are not currenlty possible. Originally the church planned on having several major events, from music ministry and the children’s Sabbath to celebrating the pastoral anniversary. Greater Ebenezer committees strategically planned to give every member a chance feel both present and safe by making gift bags, sending in recorded messages to be played in service and organizing a church homecoming drive-by parade.
Greater Ebenezer Deacon Bobby Jacobs, who is also a Waco ISD teacher, explained that even when Greater Ebenezer was not meeting physically, the livelihood of the church was still strong.
“Assembling was the biggest difference during this time in quarantine,” Jacobs said. “Other than being able to assemble, the church did not change because we, the individuals, are the church. The building itself is a structure, but the members of Greater Ebenezer are the church.”
From the physical to the spiritual aspects of church, Greater Ebenezer had their church membership come closer than ever through phone calls, Zoom gathering and the occasional house visit to check in on each other. Their endeavors candidly embodied every part of their church motto: “Where family is more than a word.”
During quarantine, Jacobs’ mentality towards worship did not change as he remained faithful to God. Jacobs said that the same value of steadfastness should be maintained by all Christians. “Worship is never different for me because it starts with me and God,” Jacobs said. “As followers of Christ, we cannot diminish the meaning of being spiritual, Christian, strong-belief and faithful to God. We cannot let the pandemic limit you to think you can’t do certain things when it comes to our worship. God is still blessing us in so many ways, so we cannot give him anything less.”