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To help equip church leaders facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College presented a series of video conversations and speaker sessions in an online summit March 26 and 27. Colin Watson, who serves on the NAE board as the ecumenical representative for the Christian Reformed Church, was invited to participate in a panel of three denominational leaders, in part because of his very recent appointment as acting executive director of the CRC.

“Of course, I was happy to participate, especially since the subject was COVID-19 and its impact on churches,” Watson told The Banner.

The discussion, “Theological Reflections on Shifting Church Worship In Response to a Prolonged Crisis,” included Watson; Doug Clay, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God; Scott Ridout, president of Converge; and was moderated by NAE president Walter Kim. It was one of about 30 videos that spanned topics from Christian witness, to care for specific populations of people during COVID-19, to “Government Supports and Grant-writing,” and two sessions on “Encouragement and Wisdom from the Global Church Family.” Published online over the two days, the videos were available to anyone who completed the free registration and could be viewed on the registrants’ own schedule.

Organizers said as of March 27, more than 4,500 people had registered.

This was the first online summit for the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, but in June 2018, HDI hosted an in-person Disaster Ministry Conference. In a press release promoting the 2020 online summit, HDI’s founder, Jamie Aten, Ph.D., said, “As an academic disaster research center, HDI has spent the past nine years studying how churches can better love and serve their congregations and communities in response to disaster and crisis. We exist to serve the church in a moment like this and are committed to providing evidence-informed resources to help churches love and serve while using best practices.”

As part of the denominational leader conversation, Watson said that while walking in the valley of darkness, Christians should turn towards worship.

“As we start to focus more on who God is and recognizing that he is with us even in the midst of this, I think we start to get our priorities right,” he said.

The summit did include worship, prayer, and devotional remarks, from writer Phillip Yancey on day one, and Margaret Diddams, Wheaton College’s provost, on day two.

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