Pictured Above: Mason Reigger, pastor, Anastasia Church Elkton
ELKTON–When South Woods Elementary School in Elkton closed this past April due to the pandemic, Anastasia Church Elkton was left without a place to worship.
But by streaming services online, using members’ yards to safely gather in person, and providing drive-in services, the church was able to adapt to accommodate the needs of the congregation and community.
“Our church has been amazing throughout this process,” said Mason Reigger, pastor at the Elkton church. “I have seen the resiliency of our church, their patient endurance.”
A native of Jacksonville, Reigger served as youth and missions pastor for 20 years at Anastasia Baptist Church, located on A1A in St. Augustine, before assuming the leadership role at Elkton.
Launched in 2017, the Elkton Church is one of three churches planted by Anastasia Church.
With a population of 5,000, Elkton is located in St. Johns County west of I-95 between St. Augustine and Palatka at the intersection of State Road 207 and County Road 305. It is predominantly an agricultural community with only one restaurant in town.
The young congregation uses the old Elkton post office as the church office. “We say that the place where people would send mail around the world is now the place where the letter of God comes alive,” shared Reigger.
Initially when the quarantine hit, like many churches, “we had to go online only,” said the pastor. Using the facility of a sister church, Anastasia 16 Church, Reigger recorded Elkton’s worship services on Saturday to stream on Sunday.
Since internet connection can be spotty in their community and some find it financially challenging to afford internet access in their home, many were unable to watch the live stream on Facebook and You Tube. Once again, the church adapted.
They partnered with the Sykes Family Farms in Elkton to hold some outdoor services on their property, using their covered pavilion. “They have been wonderful neighbors to us,” shared Reigger.
In October, the church was able to resume use of the South Woods school. But that became a problem as COVID cases began to rise and concerns increased about several church families who were dealing with cancer diagnoses.
“These people are very vulnerable, and we didn’t want to jeopardize those families,” said Reigger. “We wanted to worship with others in mind and wanted to protect them and their health.”
In January, using the parking lot at the school, the church started a drive-in service. On the first and third Sundays they now meet inside the school auditorium, and on the second and fourth Sundays they meet outside on the school parking lot.
“People have been isolated but now are so happy, joyful to have the opportunity to be together, to worship with others,” said the pastor.
The husband of one couple who had been married for 40-plus years recently came to the pastor “in tears and expressed his appreciation for letting us be together to worship in the parking lot,” said the Reigger. “That’s what it’s about, what the church is for, to love God with all our heart.”
Also, the drive-in option, which is a tenth of the cost to rent the school building, has helped the congregation to be good stewards, freeing funds to bless their community.
They have served the community mainly through their connections at the school–hosting a Good News Club, initiating a drive to provide the school with hand sanitizer and masks, distributing food to local families, and leading block parties on an area playground.
The church is also involved with a local food pantry housed at the Hastings Community Center, and has hosted the Florida Baptist Convention mobile dental unit for the community.
An organic small group has developed as some church members have encircled and encouraged families within the church and in the community as they cope with cancer concerns.
“People with similar challenges encouraged and bore each other’s burdens,” said the pastor. “A member of one of the families came forward recently at our drive-in service. He has cancer and we will be baptizing him on Palm Sunday. It’s about loving each other to Christ.”
“Our church has been amazing throughout this process,” said the pastor. “I am thankful to be a part of this church as we love the Lord in this community.”