Lancaster ministries adapt to COVID

Youth from Mountville Mennonite Church sort supplies that are arriving at Trinity Lutheran Church — Andrew Mashas/EMM Youth from Mountville Mennonite Church sort supplies that are arriving at Trinity Lutheran Church — Andrew Mashas/EMM

COVID-19 has forced many people to embrace new forms of resilience, often spurring creativity. Two Lancaster, Pa., leaders serving the refugee and immigrant communities have been doing just that: Patience Buckwalter, executive director of the Grape Leaf Empowerment Center, and Krista Martin, Eastern Mennonite Missions Kingdom Team director.

Stay-at-home orders, social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions have dramatically reduced the ability of community services like the Grape Leaf Empowerment Center. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Grape Leaf Empowerment Center has been trying to think of a way to reinvent the services that we provide to our refugee and immigrant families,” said Buckwalter.

COVID-19 realities also altered the way the Kingdom Team program ran this summer. Teams were not able to stay in the same residence, and outreach opportunities were either canceled or limited in scope. During the week of Aug. 3–7, Mountville Mennonite Church’s Kingdom Team partnered with Grape Leaf Empowerment Center to serve the refugee community of Lancaster.

“This is my second year partnering with Grape Leaf, and I always appreciate the big dreams, creativity and passion that Patience carries,” said Martin. “That was especially valuable this year as we had to adapt our plans many times along the way.”

Because of limited access to resources and services, the Mountville youth group helped the Grape Leaf Empowerment Center move supplies out of James Street Mennonite Church and into a pop-up center at Trinity Lutheran Church on South Duke Street.

“It was bittersweet to change our way of delivering services, and COVID-19 really impacted us,” said Buckwalter. “Our next plan is to raise funds to buy a camper/RV to be mobile and bring the services to our community where our families are located. Our families need us more during a pandemic, and we are being flexible and creative to serve them.”

Several other youth groups had to alter their plans or not participate at all. In addition to Mountville’s youth group, other groups also had to be resilient and creative to make their Kingdom Team experiences work. Some defaulted to having their morning discipleship sessions in the morning via Zoom. Others were able to have them in-person with mask-wearing and social distancing.

Kingdom Teams are weeklong summer discipleship and cross-cultural experiences offered in small urban centers in the United States, specifically for youth groups.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!