When the weather forecast called for below-freezing temperatures starting last weekend, city officials and service providers reached out to a newly formed group of church leaders for help in setting up emergency shelters for homeless people.
The Have Faith Initiative was formed just two weeks prior as an effort to connect faith-based organizations with city of Springfield and Greene County officials in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every Thursday, congregational leaders from throughout Springfield and Greene County participate on a Zoom call to discuss how they are serving their memberships and various community outreach efforts. During the call, the group hears weekly updates from city and county leaders, including hearing the latest about the pandemic from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
According to city spokesperson Cora Scott, there were 65 participants in this Thursday’s meeting — up from about 35 the week before.
The initiative is being led by three of the region’s largest nonprofits: Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks (sometimes referred to as Philanthropy Row because of their close proximity in downtown Springfield).
Greg Burris, president and CEO of United Way of the Ozarks, said Philanthropy Row was approached by city and county officials who asked if they’d be willing to help coordinate the faith community’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and help church leaders focus on the community’s most critical needs.
“We were already working together to coordinate the response of the nonprofit community, so it seemed like a natural outgrowth of that,” Burris said. “The first thing we did was try to identify the things that we wanted the faith community to help with based on what we knew the needs were going to be.”
Those needs include:
•Conducting “supplies drives” to collect and allocate items that nonprofits need to best serve the most vulnerable in our community.
•Coordinating support for the community’s spiritual and mental health.
•Determine how the community can best come together in faith during this time of physical distancing requirements.
•Serving as a communication conduit, both faith leaders to civic leaders and from civic leaders to faith leaders.
Burris said it’s a little too early to know what role the Have Faith Initiative will play when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. But he said church leaders were already looking to the future during this week’s meeting.
“One of the discussions (Thursday) was about how the faith community rallied this past weekend to help stand up five new homeless shelters essentially in 24 hours,” he said. “Part of that discussion was how can we continue to support the homeless even when we get into summer and we need cooling shelters. So that’s a really good sign there’s some momentum beyond the pandemic.”
Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, has been participating in the weekly Zoom meetings.
“In times of crisis, it is only natural to look to our spiritual leaders from all faith traditions to help guide us through difficult times. It was very hard for me to ask that we stop congregating, even at places of worship, however, I felt supported and understood by the faith community,” Goddard said in a news release. “To be able to discuss what’s on my mind and hear what questions and advice they have on a weekly basis, is both comforting and helpful. Springfield and Greene County are unique and wonderful places. We will all get through this together.”
Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch, himself a former health director, said he appreciates the support of the faith community in good times and bad.
“In addition to finding innovative ways to minister to their flocks, the faith community has joined in meeting needs of the community at large by individually and collectively providing tons of food and other necessary supplies during this crisis. This group has also become an extension of government and health leaders in implementing the message of the importance of physical distancing,” Bengsch said in the release.
Rev. Mark Struckhoff and Rev. Bob Roberts are serving as co-chairs for the initiative.
“The churches of Springfield and the surrounding area are a conduit of spiritual resources to serve others,” Roberts said in the release. “Our Faith Community has been faithful to respond and serve as needed during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as other opportunities as they arise.”
“I’m grateful for faith leaders and congregations of every flavor for the many ways we are working as one in response to the coronavirus,” Struckhoff said in the release. “Each mask made and worn, each decision to serve and show up, and every prayer spoken or unspoken is an expression of our faith in God’s healing and whole-making presence.”
Mayor Ken McClure said he could not be more pleased with the coordination and support of area faith leaders, and he hopes the coordination will continue well beyond the length of the current crisis.
“We appreciate their wisdom and generous spirit, as well as their willingness to collaborate with us during this pandemic,” McClure said in the release.
If you are a faith leader interested in joining, contact:
•Rev. Mark Struckhoff at MarkStruckhoff5775@gmail.com
•Rev. Bob Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org
•Greg Burris at email@example.com.
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