(RNS) — Around the world, coronavirus has forced churches to shutter their buildings.
That means Sunday worship is confined to your kitchen table or living room couch. Unless you happen to have your own church building.
Meet the Christ family (pronounced “Crist”) — Ryan and Stacy and their daughters, Grace and Clara. They live on a slice of pastureland about an hour southeast of Oklahoma City and usually worship with the Wewoka Church of Christ, which is pronounced the way you’d expect.
It’s a congregation of about 80 souls.
On most Sundays, “three hours after church is over, we’re still sitting there,” Stacy said. The kids play while the adults converse. “Everybody is just very … family.”
Then came COVID-19.
In mid-March the Wewoka church stopped in-person worship services and the minister, Gage Coldwater, started broadcasting his sermons online. Church members, like Christians around the globe, were encouraged to worship at home.
The Christs had the perfect place to do that.
Three years earlier, Ryan had constructed a tiny chapel, about 12 feet wide and 25 feet long, on their property. The structure has six small pews and can hold about a dozen non-social-distancing adults.
That’s more than enough room for a family of four, stuck at home in the midst of a pandemic.
“It was really fun that we got to have church there, together,” said Clara, age 9.
The little church building was “a heart project,” Stacy said.
She and Ryan run a feed store on their property. Stacy, who attended Lubbock Christian University in Texas before finishing her degree at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, also has a photography business. They home-school the girls.
Ryan is always looking for ways to share his faith, his wife said. The last name is a big help.
When people ask Ryan Christ if he’s related to Jesus Christ, “he always comes back with, ‘I’m not him, but I know him,’” Stacy said.
The chapel, complete with steeple and bell, was meant to inspire folks as they drove along Oklahoma’s State Highway 9, an east-west conduit just south of Interstate 40. Ryan planned to host small devotional gatherings there and maybe use it to practice delivering Bible classes — a sort of church building simulator.
At one point the family had to move it across the street — to a pasture that belonged to one of their neighbors, who welcomed it gladly.
That, Ryan said, is when the family knew it was making an impact.
“Please don’t tell me you’re taking it away!” people from the community told the family when they saw the building being disassembled for the short journey. One woman, whose son was serving in the military overseas, told them she would pull over to the side of the road by the little church building and say a prayer for him.
“It’s basically what we hoped for,” Stacy said of the building project.
It’s also just one example of the couple using their skills to serve God, said Coldwater, who just started preaching for the Wewoka Church of Christ after returning from a mission trip to Tanzania and Nepal. Working with the Manna Project, he helped train preachers to be self-sufficient through agriculture. (The trip also was to include a stop in Italy, but the coronavirus cut things short.)
“They have been some of the finest Christians to us,” Coldwater said of the Christs. Stacy does graphic design work for the church and, after COVID hit, put together a Facebook post for an unleavened bread recipe that went viral — in a good way, reaching more than 8,000 people.
“They work as a team for the Lord in so many ways,” Coldwater said. Ryan “is constantly trying to reach everyone he comes in contact with, with the gospel. … They love God and His people.”
As the pandemic worsened, and as Oklahoma’s weather improved, the Christs decided to move their in-home worship service to the little church building. There they watched Coldwater’s livestream sermon and took the Lord’s Supper. Ryan led hymns “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Lamb of God,” “Amazing Grace” (that was Clara’s choice) and “Jesus Hold My Hand” (that was Grace’s).
“As I travel through this pilgrim land, there is a friend who walks with me. Leads me safely through the sinking sand. It is the Christ at Calvary.”
“I think it was like a good memory for all of us,” said Grace, age 12. When the quarantine finally ends “and when we get out there, we’ll remember what we did.”
For Ryan, in the heart of the quiet pastureland, “it was just us and God, focusing on Christ alone,” he said. “It was as close to the first century as we could get. I mean, we had livestream, had Facebook, but it was so back to nature, so back to the simplicity of worship.”
During the quarantine, Stacy has watched services from other Churches of Christ online. She takes comfort in knowing that there’s a whole family of faith, worldwide, facing uncertain times together.
“Sometimes we kind of separate ourselves into our church buildings,” she said, but the pandemic “has united us the way we’re supposed to be united.”
A sign on the front of the little church building reads: “Guide me by the grace of Your hand in the small of my faith.”
“That came to me when I was a student at Lubbock Christian,” Stacy said. “I woke up and wrote it on a piece of scrap paper in the middle of the night, and when I woke up the next morning, I thought I’d dreamed it.”
She hadn’t. She later found the paper.
“I pictured a husband leading his wife, hand in the small of her back, like how you may lead your wife gently, just to let her know you are there.” In the same way, she feels God leading her “in the small of my faith, times when I have little faith.”
“It fits this time now,” she said. “It gives us great peace and joy to know we will be fine because he’s leading us.”
A version of this story was originally published by The Christian Chronicle. The original story can be found here.