The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights
On this episode of Chamber Coronavirus Impact Insights, Meiko Seymour, Executive Pastor of Pinellas Community Church joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst to talk about how churches are pivoting to deal with coronavirus mitigation while still providing the services parishioners and community members need.
Seymour says that running a church in the times of Covid-19 is particularly difficult, given the state and national media attention given to churches that have not closed their doors in compliance with mitigation efforts. According to Seymour, this is not reflective of most churches and particularly not those in the St. Pete community. Pinellas Community Church has pivoted online not only for Sunday services but for small groups, community groups and bible studies. Seymour says the church made that pivot early and intentionally, “not only to be good neighbors and to make sure we’re adhering to what our leaders are saying,” he explained, “but also so when we come out this season, our members are still with us.”
Seymour points out that many churches are in a place of tension right now because they know the mental health detriments to constant connection and screen time. Pinellas Community Church is attempting to walk that line by pausing some of its normal offerings and focusing on offline resourcing for parents to assist with children’s ministry. The church also works to ensure that its daily offerings are short: 15 minutes of daily evening prayer time and eight minutes of daily morning devotion.
A majority of the church’s staff is working from home, but Seymour says the church offices are still open daily for 3-4 hours. He’s particularly aware that there are some members of his community that do not have access to the internet or to a phone, who need resources in-person from a safe distance.
Pinellas Community Church’s food pantry, Feed St. Pete, remains open. On any normal Tuesday, Feed St. Pete feeds about 400 people. Seymour says that the pantry has seen increased need feeding up to 1,000 people over the past two weeks.
Though Seymour moved to St. Petersburg just five years ago, he is deeply connected in the community. As executive pastor of Pinellas Community Church, a graduate of Leadership St. Pete, Chair of the Culture and Community Work Group for Grow Smarter, a member of the Public Arts Commission and community member involved in the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Seymour has been squarely focused on community and equity for years.
Through that perspective, Seymour says Covid-19 has brought visible inequalities to new heights. Seymour describes the uncertainty that many of the community members he interacts with are struggling with on daily basis. They’re worried about unemployment and the possibility of having to re-skill. They’re struggling to pay rent or mortgages, afraid of losing their homes and making the choice between paying rent or paying for groceries. Seymour says that choice has led to a 65 percent increase in first-time families coming through the church’s pantry last week. “Instead of paycheck to paycheck, folks are now living dollar to dollar, and in some cases cent to cent,” Seymour says.
He explains that churches serve as conduits of communication, parsing out and translating communications from federal to state and local officials. Seymour closes with a message for Good Friday, as Christians look toward Easter.