I’d never spoken with Pastor George Mason from Wilshire Baptist Church before, but I have admired him for the past few years. The longtime leader of Wilshire Baptist made news in late 2016 when his congregation voted for all members to be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, a move that got it kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Our lightly edited conversation—about rediscovery, largely—follows. But first, a prayer.
How quickly did you decide that you couldn’t have hold services anymore? When did that first come up? I guess try to go back and think of the first day, I think it might’ve been the 15th of March. Something like that.
How much contact do you have with your congregation since then? I’ve had quite a lot of contact with the congregation through various means, and people are appreciating the fact that we’re taking all the necessary precautions. I’m paying attention to the science, listening to the government officials that are doing a good job locally. I think especially Clay Jenkins, Judge Jenkins, is doing a great job and the county health department. So I think the congregation understands that this is a time for us to sacrifice the things that are good for the things that are best.
Right. So what does that mean to you to be able to, you know, be a spiritual leader, but now having to do that at a remove, at a distance? Anytime something like this happens and you have to get creative, it takes you back to what’s really fundamental your job, I think. And so when we have to use different delivery methods for pastoral care, for communication, for worship and study and prayer, things like that. It reminds you that it’s not something you take for granted, but you can still find ways. So I think it’s taught me appreciation for the life we share together as a congregation.
What are your delivery methods? Are you trying to reach out to different people? The congregation is really large. So it’s difficult for me to reach out personally to everyone. But what we’ve done is lots of short videos, mass emails, embedded videos on the webpage, Facebook Live. We’re trying to produce things to communicate as much as possible.
Yeah, it’s easier to do that now. Then, on top of that, we have we, we have organized the congregation in such a way that every two weeks everyone is getting a call, kind of a well-check call—to see what the update is, whether they’ve lost a job, whether they have particular food or medicine needs, things of that nature. And then every Friday we created a Friday Five plan, where just what we’re saying to all of our members is contact someone on Friday, five people who are different each week and who are outside of the normal pattern of your relationships at church. Just check on them just call the say hello and encourage them.
Oh, that’s cool. That actually feels like something that—I hate to say “benefit”—but it seems like a good thing to come from all this. I think that we have all learned a lot of things that we might have overlooked. Things we could have done better in our communication during normal days. For example, my assistant sent an email from our office—really from her, and she’s the church clerk—to all the inactive members of the church, the people who haven’t been in quite a long time, and said: “You know, during this time, it just occurs to us that we should check on you, too. And while we haven’t seen you at church in a long time, we just wonder what’s happening in your life. Do you have anything that you’d like to share with us that you need prayer for? Are you attending another congregation? Did you move? Is there a change that you’d like us to know about?” That sort of thing.
We’ve gotten some fabulous responses. Really appreciating the contact and the recognition that, you know, they’re still connected to us in some way. So some people have moved to other churches, some people have moved to other parts of the country and kept the same email address. Some people have just said, look, you know, I’ve been at a different place in my life, but I think I’m ready to get back. This is teaching me that I need church. And so we’ve been able to reconnect with quite a few people. I mean, probably, you know, eight or 10 people who really we should have been communicating with along the way.
Yeah, I’ve actually found myself doing that with people, too. I’ve been connecting with people I haven’t necessarily with in a while. The other thing I’ve done is to change my mode of communication somewhat. And I’ve written more personal notes to people. I’ll just put them in the mail, you know, things that you don’t normally do. Maybe you’re used to texting somebody or using email. But a personal note is—it’s a whole different thing, when somebody gets that. It took some time and thought and work to do so.
Absolutely. Is there a particular passage of the Bible or verse or anything that you’ve found yourself turning to during this time? Well, that’s an interesting question. I would say there’s a passage from Second Timothy that says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.”