There was faith on Indianola’s West Salem Avenue Sunday.
Not church — that’s far too formal a word for the gatherings of about 20 friends and neighbors on the street, said organizer Greg Rhoulhac.
He calls it, instead “a ministry” that is working to help friends and neighbors find their way through the challenges of COVID-19 by singing about the wonders of God.
“Through our perspective, things look daunting and wrong,” said Rhoulhac. “But there’s a sliver of God’s hand in all things.”
Rhoulhac and his wife, Allison, live with their three children on a stretch of Salem Avenue west of Whittier Elementary that also is home to six other families that attend Martensdale Community Church.
Early in the crisis, Rhoulhac and Allison were video chatting with a friend who lives in Spain.
“We were able to see how their little block area would do clapping for the medical professionals, and that was kind of cool,” he said. “It got me thinking, what are we going to do as a block?”
Rhoulhac’s neighbor, Jordan Salisbury and his wife, Joci, are living with her parents, Don and Brenda Krueger, as they prepare to become missionaries in the Philippines. They also attend the Martensdale church.
The families have been members of a Bible study together, but when Governor Kim Reynolds limited the number of people who could gather in one spot, the study group changed from in-person meetings to a phone gathering. After their first meeting, Salisbury said, the group chatted and prayed.
“It was 10:30 at night and we came out and sang a song from each other’s porches,” he recalled. “Greg got the idea of inviting the community to be able to sing and worship together.”
This Sunday was the third week that friends and neighbors have gathered to sing and hear a reading from the Bible, said Rhoulhac. In the first week, it was from Matthew 11 — “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This week, the lesson came from John, where Rhoulhac is drawing most of his texts now. When first choosing what to read at each gathering, he wondered, he said, what would be “a blessing with others? To hop around the Bible in a manner that others might not find very organized or just stick on one book?”
John contains several miracles and statements about the identity of the Lord, said Rhoulhac. “It’s a very gospel-oriented book,” he explained. “It’s something I thought that if it would continue, we could at least get the benefit of some consistency.”
And the gatherings have taken on a consistency. Rhoulhac distributes information sheets to people's doors before the gathering, with the lyrics of the songs to be sung, the text that he will read, and the time for people to gather.
Neighbors turn out in their driveways and sing two hymns. Rhoulhac reads the lesson, and then the group sings again. This week, Salisbury brought his guitar and played, although he admitted that it had been years since he had played.
“My fingers were kind of hurting,” he said.
Attendance can vary, depending on who’s available, and the schedule also can vary, depending on the weather. While many of those who stand outside to sing also attend online services, the in-person gatherings are nice, said Salisbury, even at a distance.
He and his wife, Joci, were in separate parts of the world when they were engaged, he recalled, and although they could video chat, communication didn’t come easily.
“It was challenging to have good conversations on a video chat,” he said. “The emotions and understanding of the jokes was a little off.”
The live gatherings, on the other hand, even across streets and driveways, add an extra element to the celebration.
“It really adds that there’s community. It’s a place for encouragement,” Salisbury said.
And people need encouragement right now in the midst of job losses and worry about health and money, said Rhoulhac.
“There’s fear, there’s worry, there’s panic,” he said. “There’s a number of factors. My main thought is how can I best serve with community? Singing and reading seemed like the best way to do that.”
It seems appropriate that the ministry is happening in spring, with Palm Sunday and Easter — when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a tide of exultation, only to die, be buried, and resurrected the next week — beginning next week.
It’s a reminder that there’s something more important that current debts or money woes, said Rhoulhac.
“Our greatest debt has already been paid by our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Our destiny is secure in it. Our greatest need is to turn to Him, and I hope people find peace in that, and not despair.”