Miami Beach

Calvary Chapel Miami Beach

Calvary Chapel Miami Beach Finds Creative Ways to Stay Connected During the Pandemic

Story by Margot Bass

food pantry

Pastor Robert Fountain’s staff surprised him on Easter morning with a sanctuary full of faces. Photo by Sam Clark

On Easter morning, Pastor Robert Fountain walked into his sanctuary prepared to deliver his teaching before cameras and a nearly empty room. For several weeks, Calvary Chapel Miami Beach, FL, services had been online only—following quarantine and social distancing guidelines that have limited large gatherings to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

But this Sunday the sanctuary was unexpectedly full. Robert laughed joyfully as he faced many in his congregation—their pictures had been taped onto the vacant seats before him. “My staff decided to surprise me. I didn’t know they were going to do it,” he admitted. “They’re not just pictures of our congregation; they included missionaries and pastors we’ve sent out and even one of [19th Century preacher] Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” For fun, Robert later added a photo of the late theologian A.W. Tozer. “It touched me that my staff and fellowship wanted to encourage me,” Robert said.

A few days before Easter, CC Miami Beach’s staff sent out emails to ministry leaders, asking them and their fellow servants to email their pictures to the office, according to Erica Sommer, Robert’s administrative assistant. Some photos were taken from Facebook. Other members in the church body got excited when they viewed a later video clip of the pictures on Facebook. “When they saw what we had done, they wanted their pictures on the chairs, too. Every week the number of photos is growing,” Erica remarked. Now more than 80 pictures representing all ages “sit” in the virtual congregation. “One of our original members, 80 years old, asked that her picture be added. For them it’s that they want to be with their family. Even if we’re not physically there, we know we’re together in spirit,” Erica recounted.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20

An Interdependent Family

Robert emphasized that he and his staff want to foster a family atmosphere in the fellowship of between 400 and 500 attendees. “I really avoid anything that’s going to give us an ‘institutional’ feel. We’re not a huge church, but we’re large enough that we could flip over into that. You get to the point where you have to develop policies and procedures, and if you’re not careful, you lose that family dynamic,” he explained. “These pictures are a reminder that we are a very interdependent family and that we need each other. This was an encouragement to our church body as well—that we miss them and that engagement with them matters to us.”

The popularity of the pictures reflects the members’ desire to belong, Erica said. “God calls us into fellowship with Him first, then calls us to fellowship with one another. We’re not just there on Sunday—it’s throughout the week. People have become family, so much more than just ‘church members.’ People are hungering and thirsting for [fellowship with] each other,” she observed. The pictures also reassure the team of eight that comes in every Sunday to record the online services: “We’re so used to engaging with people. To see even the pictures is an encouragement to us as well,” Erica noted.

Engaging the Community

Grateful for the technology that allows him to connect to his fellowship and his community during the pandemic, Robert stated that many in the city are asking important questions and now may be more open to hearing about hope in Jesus Christ. The pandemic in Miami Beach has shut down its tourist-driven economy, he reported. “People are scared, really shaken. There’s so much uncertainty about the disease itself and about its economic impact. I see that so many have a religion—but not really [genuine] faith. And if they have a faith, it’s very untested.” His hope is that God will use the church’s online resources evangelistically as his fellowship shares them. “I realize that, for many, it’s a lot easier to share a video like that than it is to [verbally] share the Gospel with an unbelieving co-worker or family member.”

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2

CC Miami Beach has also continued its active food pantry through the pandemic, Robert stated. “God prepared us for this, and we’ve seen Him really use it in the community. The demand is growing as people are struggling and out of work,” he affirmed. Two days a week those in need—now between 350-400—come to the church to pick up food donated by two city grocery companies.

Up to 20 volunteers from the church gather daily to pack boxes of food and share them with the church family and the community. Erica related, “Our people who have lost jobs are volunteering, offering to drive to the stores to pick up donations, instead of moping and feeling sorry for themselves. They’re saying, ‘No, we’re all in this together.’ It’s been beautiful to see what God’s doing in this season despite these crazy circumstances.”

Pastor Robert concluded, “Jesus continues to be faithful. None of this has caught Him off-guard. He intends to use all of this to deepen our faith and to embolden our witness.”

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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