Bishop Staccato Powell is president of the board of bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a founding member church of the World Council of Churches (WCC). His long service with the WCC includes attending four assemblies and serving on many governing bodies, including the current Central Committee.
Amid Holy Week observances and Easter celebrations, what was the biggest challenge?
Bishop Powell: In our tradition, we are accustomed to congregating and gathering during Holy Week. In many instances, several churches would come together and have services every night of the week. On Good Friday, people often gathered for the Seven Last Words service, and then attend sunrise service at dawn on Easter. This is addition to the regular Easter worship service. Some people are what we call “CMEs,” meaning they only attend church on Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter. Therefore, people being restricted from gathering in the traditional sense was quite challenging.
What was your message to your church?
Bishop Powell: We must be intentional about reaching out to each other, whether it is via telephone, digital communication and/or on social media platforms. Some in my generation still prefer talking over texting. Millennials and GenXers can sit next to each other and still feel comfortable with texting over talking. But we are forced to come up with other ways to connect.
One of the things we are doing to keep people connected and faith-focused, is daily prayer calls. We were doing the calls prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of callers has increased exponentially. We have also noticed, before and after the calls, people will often linger on the phone just for the opportunity to converse and have virtual fellowship with an individual beyond their household. Many people on the calls have not met face-to-face but they are familiar with the names and voices on the prayer call.
This koinonia results in communities being built around such ministry activities as prayer. It is meaningful to them. We know how lonely homebound people can become. This period has really introduced many of us to what it means to be in isolation—and what prayer can mean to us in a season of loneliness. We are in a sense experiencing a revival of faith.
What prayers can we as the World Council of Churches offer for you?
Bishop Powell: We solicit from our sisters and brothers of the World Council of Churches their most fervent prayers. During this unprecedented global health concern of the coronavirus, COVID-19, people are impacted in various ways. Many are fearful of contracting the virus and have witnessed family members, friends and loved ones infected and who succumbed to the virus.
What we most need are the perpetual prayers for the covering of the Holy Spirit, preventing anything harmful come nigh our dwellings. We pray to a kind, loving God who protects us in a unique way. We are confident, He will shelter us beneath his wing during this season. This is a prayer offering regardless of our communion or faith tradition. It is an ecumenical prayer for all of us who adhere to the promises and claims of Christ.