Pews are full at Elgin Church

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The pews at Illyria Community Church, Elgin are filled with self-portraits of congregation members. Photo by Mark Reinig


By Pam Reinig

Although churches have been closed since late March I have “seen” the members of my congregation weekly—and not once have we defied the governor’s order prohibiting large gatherings.

            I am pastor of Illyria Community Church in Elgin, which is home to some of the area’s most caring and clever people. I’ve been live streaming our Sunday services and mid-week Christian Ed class for four weeks as part of our commitment to stay connected even as COVID-19 keeps us apart.

The first time I stood in the pulpit looking out over an empty sanctuary, I commented on the loneliness of being alone in the church. The following week dozens of photos pulled and printed from our Facebook page were taped to the pews. Each had been carefully selected and placed in the pew most often occupied by the person or persons in each picture.

            This week a new gallery appeared. Dozens of Illyrians had supplied hand-drawn, homemade, or computer-generated self-portraits. Many were accessorized with beards, hair ribbons, earrings, eyeglasses, and even a carboard tie for a member known for his clever neckwear. There were also many “real-life” photos.

            I can’t imagine the coordination this incredible act required or how they kept it a secret from me, but I’m not surprised by the effort. This is a congregation that has treasured its church and its church family for 125 years. This is a congregation that opens its heart to anyone who walks through its doors. This is a congregation that has known difficult times but has always managed to not just survive but thrive. And that’s why I’m confident Illyria will be strong—maybe even stronger—when COVID-19 is finally behind us.

            Of course, congregations are not the only ones grappling with loneliness and isolation right now. So this congregation has a message and method for everyone who is struggling: You can be kind, clever and creative even in the midst of the worst pandemic we’ve ever known. And we won’t be the least bit upset if you steal a page from our playbook and make your own “gallery.” Let each member of your family create a self-portrait and then share your work with a friend, relative or neighbor you’re missing or who’s missing you. It will lift their spirits immeasurably. It certainly did mine.

            Pam Reinig has been editor of the Clayton County Register for 10 years. She is retiring from the position to focus full-time on ministry.

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