IN THE MIDST OF SEASONS THAT KEPT US APART PHYSICALLY, WE COULDN'T WAIT FOR YOU TO COME TO US . . . SO WE CAME TO YOU.
"It’s always weirded me out when I’ve heard people say 'church isn’t a building.' Then what do we mean when we say 'we’re going to church Sunday', or 'come with me to my church', or 'what church do you go to?'
For so many of us, church IS a place, it’s a home, a shelter, a refuge. We call them sanctuaries for a reason. But this year I was strongly reminded that church isn’t JUST a building. It is indeed a place, but it’s MUCH MORE than that. It’s more than a building. We’ve been planning for years what it would take to video our services well. Then the next step would be to start streaming. So thankfully, COVID didn’t change our goals or our direction—it most certainly changed the timeline.
We started streaming on week one, and boy howdy, have there been lessons learned. Our church family has been overwhelmingly kind and gracious with our learning curve, and each week we get a little better. We’ve seen many come to know Jesus for the first time during our online services. Each time it highlights for me the key idea that we’re not just doing this because of the craziness that is 2020, but we’re doing this because we believe in meeting people where they are. And people are online!
I had a really cool experience with a young man during our online service. Life was in a rough spot, and he happened to see our sign as he drove by, even when everything was shut down for in-person services. But attending online didn’t feel so overwhelming. He came and silently watched for a week or two, then reached out using the 'Live Prayer' button. I got the chance to get to know him a little bit and pray over some rough things he was going through. On a prompting from the Spirit, I made the leap and invited him to meet me in the physical world for lunch. To my shock and joy, he said yes! We met for lunch and he was brave enough to share his story. I got to pray with him again in person, and then the next week he reached out to join one of our Young Adult Community Groups! From never having been in our building, to looking at joining a group of fellow believers who will encourage and walk with him—that’s the dream! It’s a stark reminder that when we talk about views and clicks online, it’s not just a metric; each one is a real person, walking the journey of faith, and we get the opportunity to encourage them! PRAISE GOD!
Jesus cares about those in retirement homes who can’t make it here, those with at-risk families just trying to protect their loved ones, those without transportation, or with jobs that keep them from being a part of the Sunday morning time slot.
Jesus cares about each of them—and so do we. So regardless of if you’ve been back in person since the moment it was allowed, or if you’ve been a part of a great community building up online—welcome home!"
- Jim Smith, Online Campus Director
From our very first online service, we’ve seen so much consistency AND growth in our church body. While it may look like a dip in numbers, our online service only counts devices streaming the service, not individuals. That means so many more are tuning in, whether with family, neighbors, or Community Groups.
Since our online campus began, we've had 45 people indicate that they wanted to trust Jesus for the very first time!
"In our Community Group, which is made up of 'experienced' members, some with limited technology skills have made the necessary transitions and adjustments to participate in church services online. That for many is a big step and goes outside our comfort zones. I’m sure we all know people who at first were not excited about virtual church services, but have since converted over and now understand and embrace the importance of using this opportunity.
In our group, our host, who is also our most 'experienced' member, had never used an iPad before, but turned into a regular virtual attendee using his new technology device. So we are all be blessed in that we’ve had, and still do have, such an opportunity. As we know, this is something people in years past did not have. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Morning Star and other church leaders and staff for making this happen as we await God’s plan to unfold regarding the pandemic."
- Chuck Hayes
YOUTH GROUP WITHOUT THE GROUP
Everything we do in Student Ministries happens because of our committed volunteer leaders. These rockstars have always risen above the call of duty, but during this COVID season, they took it to a whole new level. In March, things across every facet of our lives were cancelled, but as we know, Church, the gathering of God’s people, is never cancelled. The Student Ministries team began creating weekly content in the form of YouTube videos that premiered on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Our volunteers would rally their students to watch them together, and then have small group time over video calls after.
When we couldn't meet in person, this really maintained the connection that students need. When small, in-person gatherings were made possible, our leaders opened up their homes to their students for those small group meetings. That willingness to do whatever it takes to see students grow in their faith made this season a success, rather than a disappointment. On top of all of this, they came together to make Great Camp happen and have been back in person, every week we are able, introducing young people to Jesus and discipling them into maturity in Him.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging parts of all of this, is that even in this season, we had two stellar volunteers start as leaders during the pandemic. Bretta came to check out serving at Highlife in March—the last week before in-person gatherings were cancelled—and then was able to come to Great Camp in August as a leader.
“I wasn't around before camp to see the difference between before and after camp, but to my knowledge it has increased the amount of girls regularly showing up for small group, and Great Camp has created a space in which they are more likely to open up. During camp, it was hard for them to talk about their walk with Christ beyond the superficial aspects, but now they are listening to the messages and reflecting them into their lives and experiences. I feel incredibly blessed to know these girls and be in a position to lead them towards Christ!”
- Bretta Little, 7th Grade Girls' Leader
MORE THAN SUNDAY SCHOOL
Our Morning Star Kids' team works tirelessly to create great, interactive lessons and weekly content to stay connected with parents and kids when we can't all be together. From online to outdoor services to meeting in the building, our team has created fun, safe ways for kids to learn and grow with Jesus!
"A new family (a mom and two girls) came during the outdoor service. They looked a little lost and unsure the first week, but it was just what they needed, and the girls had a blast! I made sure to be intentional about giving them attention and making them feel welcomed. It must've worked because they came back the next week! The mom seemed so grateful to have a safe and fun place to bring her girls!"
– Savanna Yuzko, Morning Star Kids Team
A SCARY GOOD TIME: TRUNK OR TREAT 2020!
RECOVERY DOESn't take breaks
Did you know that Celebrate Recovery never cancels? A huge part of the recovery process is consistency, so the team that runs CR is there every Tuesday. Rain or shine, Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving, every year. For this ministry, cancelling is just not an option.
Our amazing team was able to begin the first Recovery-centered Community Group, starting as an online meeting space, now in-person, for anyone struggling with hurts, habits, or hang-ups to support each other and move forward into healing and freedom.
Celebrate Recovery has had 33 people fill out new-person cards since the shutdown began in March.
That's 33 people getting connected and starting their journey toward hope and healing, in the midst of a pandemic!
MEETING OUR COMMUNITY WHERE THEY'RE AT
We got a call in August from our great friends at Hope Station. They had pallets of food to give away and wondered if we would be interested in handing it out at church. We went to pick up FIVE pallets of food (that’s a few thousand pounds!) and when we got back to the church, we had a line of cars waiting!
As we loaded up cars with grapes, blueberries, milk, butter, eggs, broccoli, chips, and more, we got to talk to the people and hear a little of their stories. One family was picking up for others they knew needed it more that they did. Another family picked up food for two families in their neighborhood. A few families were ashamed to ask for food, but they really needed it; we prayed with them and encouraged them. Others were looking for ways to bless their neighbors unexpectedly. One guy had nine kids to feed and was so grateful for everything.
We got to pray with people and share where this abundance—and where our hope—comes from.
When it seemed like the world was on fire, the biggest question we heard from our church family was, "How can I help?"
During the wildfires, so many of you contacted us to offer your homes, clothing, food, and money to help those who were displaced. We had overwhelmingly more help offered than was asked for. We were blown away by the amount of people ready to help at a moment's notice. Some of the ways we were able to help were:
- Paying for a hotel room for people who had been displaced
- Raising over $7000 during a gift card drive to have gift cards on hand to give to those in need
- Using our parking lot to house several displaced families in their RVs
It's still a long road for many who live in the Santiam Canyon, but with the generosity of this church, we're ready to help in the long run.
COVID brought an opportunity to serve our first responders who serve our community on a regular basis. We partnered with 3R’s to disinfect their vehicles and we were able to give them a care package with practical things they would use: energy drinks, protein bars, gum, and Advil, as well as encouragement notes from many of you in our church!
The most important thing we gave them may have been a few minutes rest and a person to talk to. We heard their stories and got to tell them how much we appreciate what they do, the hard situations and the things no one sees or understands. There were firefighters, ambulances, police, medical transports, doctors, and nurses who came to our church to receive this tangible help!
"During the COVID shutdown, we were invited to make lunches for different departments at Salem Hospital for the eight weeks of May to June. The timing of the request and offer of payment to do so was such a blessing for us and our business. And even better, we were thrilled to be able to give back to these frontline warriors and our community during this unprecedented time.
God has provided for us so incredibly generously through all of this, and it was amazing to give back. From the notes we received, it seems the staff at Salem Hospital that we served were blessed as well. Many thanks to Pastor Jared and Morning Star for selecting us to participate in this program. It was a huge blessing all the way around. Praise to God for all His blessings!"
- Natalie & Barry, Owners of Idle Hour Bar
THE GREATEST CAMP EVER
Usually our middle and high school students each get a week in the summer to get away, camp out, and have fun as they learn about Jesus. This year, we had to get a little creative about how to do that . . .
"To sum it up, Great Camp was, well, great! It truly was. In a time when people felt isolated and alone, we were able to bring the church together and experience something great together. Even with masks and social distancing guidelines in place, the energy was palpable. It kind of felt like a candle was ignited in the darkness. We had a ton of fun and we experienced Jesus together.
The theme of the week was Jesus is better. Jesus is better than my plans. Jesus is better than my fears. Jesus is better than blessings. Jesus is better than the struggle. Jesus is better than religion. Jesus is better than the ordinary life. Jesus is better. We processed and experienced these truths together while having a ton of fun. It was a beautiful, COVID-inspired collision of Great Xscape and Adventure Camp. And while summer camp looked different this year, it truly felt like camp. Take a look at the video and testimonies below to see a glimpse of what we’re talking about."
"Jumping into high school ministry mid-pandemic felt like a crazy thing to do . . . so naturally I did it, and I’m SO glad I did. I can’t believe I get to know and love these girls."
-Ariah Limed, High School Girls' Leader
"People shared deep hurts and sins, had revelations on how to better follow the Lord, and came to know Him just like at any other camp. He can reach our students at home in Salem the same way He can in Tygh Valley."
- Natalie Smith, High School Girls' Leader
"When we began this year armed with what we believed was '2020 vision,' we never envisioned the twists and turns, uncertainties, and sometimes frustrating, terrifying, even disheartening circumstances in which we would find ourselves. We couldn’t even read the big letters at the top of the eye chart! One of the first messages I shared was the story of Jehoshaphat, found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-12. Under threat of utter destruction, confronted with the prospect of bitter defeat at the hands of powerful armies arrayed against them, God’s people were vulnerable and exposed with no immediate remedies or relief in sight. And how did the good king Jehoshaphat respond? He poured his heart out to God in prayer: 'We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.'
We are approaching 2021 with so many unanswered questions swirling around us and threatening to undo us, or at the very least keep us in a constant state of anxiety. But fear not, Church! As you can see, God has been at work in powerful ways this past year. It is in these very times of uncertainty and discomfort that faith grows exponentially! Let’s end this year the way we started—with our eyes on the Lord. So much has changed for us, but He has not changed.
Moving forward with our eyes on Jesus, armed with nothing but this trust in Him, let’s lead many, many more people to pursue a Jesus-first life!"
- Scott Nelson, Senior Pastor