When several of Detroit’s Black churches shuttered their doors temporarily two years ago, many church leaders likely didn’t think the changes they’d make would become permanent. While some local churches have plans to return to their former operations, other churches say they’ll never return to the way they operated prior to the pandemic.
“American Black Journal” producer AJ Walker meets with Rev. Cindy Rudolph, of Oak Grove AME Church in Detroit, to learn more about how the church reacted and adapted new ways of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rudolph talks about having to quickly adapt to remote services, online tithing and increased community outreach, all in the midst of her first few months as the church’s new senior pastor.
AJ Walker, American Black Journal: She had only been in her role a short time before pastor Cindy Rudolph of Oak Grove AME Church had to rise to an unprecedented challenge.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph, Oak Grove AME Church: I am the first female pastor here at Oak Grove and we were very much in celebration mode when I arrived. And then four to five months into me pastoring, the pandemic hit. And so we had to pivot.
AJ Walker: The cozy, welcoming church had to close its doors and look at new ways to reach its members and the community.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: And so we had to, of course, suspend in-person worship. We had to make sure that our worship experience was available on multiple platforms. And so they can watch our online worship and worship with us as we stream online, live on Sunday mornings, on YouTube, on Facebook, on our website, and on our app.
AJ Walker: To make that happen, the church had to start focusing more heavily on putting on not just a sermon, but a video production.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: And so we did a complete overhaul. Cameras, lighting, sound system, microphones, because we wanted to make sure that everything we had was state of the art so that people could really feel the worship experience.
AJ Walker: Traditional ways of collecting offerings also had to change.
AJ Walker: And what about tithing? Because I feel like if people don’t have the collection plate right there getting passed, sometimes they may be less inclined to give. Has your tithing been affected in donations?
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: Thank God things have gone well for us because we again had to pivot in that area as well. We were already doing online giving and so we already had that as an opportunity or an option, but we wanted to make sure that people gave in ways that was comfortable for them. And so some people are comfortable texting. So we added text giving, some people are comfortable using an app. And so we have app giving.
AJ Walker: You’ve had to make so many changes in a very short amount of time and become experts at things you never even thought you would have to. Like the decision to offer the vaccine on-site here at the church. I know a lot had to go into you deciding that.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: Yes, it took prayer. It took time with God. It took research. I firmly believe that the vaccine is safe. And the reason why I was willing to serve as a vaccination site is because I did that research first and concluded that the vaccine is, in fact safe. I’ve been vaccinated. I’ve been boosted. My daughter has been vaccinated. My husband has been vaccinated, my entire family, because we believe in it.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: We just had to redefine ourselves and find new ways to still feel connected, even though we couldn’t physically be with one another. We started Oak Grove Connectors where we trained over 50 people to become leaders, and they would reach out to members of the church and make sure that they still felt connected socially as well as spiritually. And so every week or so, they would touch base with them to make sure that they were still feeling very much a part of the community.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: We are always called to minister to the least of these. We are always called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are always called to care for and extend the love of God to people. But we have to find new ways of doing that, and so we have to adapt with each passing moment. COVID has helped us in some ways because it forced many churches to adapt technologically.
AJ Walker: What is this space going to look like when you reopen?
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: I am very excited about our reopening and we are anticipating since we already have people who’ve registered, even though it’s only a couple of weeks away, we’re going to have a wonderful worship experience. I’m really excited about seeing members that I have not seen in months.
AJ Walker: While Pastor Rudolph is looking forward to holding traditional service starting in April. She also looks forward to continued growth in the digital space.
Rev. Cindy Rudolph: Now that most churches are streaming online. It is up to us to continue to engage not just with the people in the pews, but also with the people who are watching us online. Hybrid Church is the church of the future, and we cannot ignore that. It’s not enough for us to say it’s just about us and our community here. We need to always be mindful of that broader audience. That’s how we do the work of God.
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Watch American Black Journal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.