Being The Church Without A Building

A Vineyard in NY asked how they could "be the church" without a building, and saw unexpected fruit come in a challenging season. John Elmer, pastor of the Syracuse Vineyard, shares the Syracuse Vineyard's story of loving their neighbors through the pandemic.

John Elmer

Lead Pastor, Vineyard Syracuse | Regional Leader, Eastern Region, Vineyard USA

These last months have been a wild ride for all of us! We have had to wrestle with questions we never anticipated we would need to wrestle with. “Should we shut down? When do we open? How do we “be the church” without access to our building?”

At the Syracuse Vineyard we made the decision to close early with the commitment to “be the church” in a fresh way. This season may be the greatest opportunity for harvest that this generation gets and I don’t want to miss it!

Everyone is dealing with the vulnerability of our society and their own mortality.

There is uncertainty and continuous change which is fertile ground for the Good News of the power and grace of Jesus.

In this context, our church moved forward with some key principles:

  • The more we plant in this season, the more we harvest in the next. This is the time to work hard rather than sit back.
  • Find needs and meet them.
  • Give people opportunities to serve.
  • It’s okay to try, and fail.

So we continue to ask the question we always ask, “How can we love our neighbors?”

This new season closed certain opportunities but opened up others. Some worked and some didn’t.

One of the first things we did was let our availability be known. We contacted all the funeral homes in Onondaga County and offered to do free funerals and provide a sandwich tray for the family.

At that time they were predicting a wave of deaths and some local pastors were afraid to do funerals. We contacted the mayor and the CEO of a local large hospital a block away to offer our building to them free of charge if they needed it during the crisis. Both individuals got back to me personally within the hour and thanked me. No one took us up on any of these offers (remember, it’s okay to try and fail).

Soon after this started we realized there was a big need for food because so many people lost their jobs. To respond to this we opened up four emergency food distributions at our sites. Each one started off slow but has rapidly grown. In one weekend, we served over 300 families boxes of food! This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus while building relationships.

I am leading our food distribution on the Northside of Syracuse, an economically challenged area where new refugees are settled, and I am having the time of my life! I’m getting to meet my neighbors, pray for some while memorizing a lot of names.

I have no doubt there will be an eternal harvest from this! No one knows how long this will go on but I’d encourage you to go for it!

It’s a great season to be the church!


John Elmer is the Lead Pastor of the Syracuse Vineyard in Syracuse, NY, and Regional Leader for Vineyard USA.