When the pandemic hit in March 2020, mass gatherings were prohibited for a time and churches were forced to find new ways to minister to their flock — and they did.

Zoom services, drive-in gatherings and other social media outlets helped connect church members to the messages still offered by their church pastor or pastoral team.

Virus numbers are dropping now and most churches in the county have resumed in-person services. Sadly, it seems many people have fallen out of the habit of attending church. One local pastor indicated attendance is down 40% in his church and said that’s about average from what he sees and hears.

The pandemic has taken its toll on society and reduced attendance in church has facilitated a host of negative results on a community level in the area of mental health. News reports show 15% of young adults, 18-25, have reported a major depressive episode in the last year and the pandemic has tripled the number of people who have reported symptoms of anxiety and depression according to “Statistica.”

In addition, depending on the region, up to 15% of the U.S. population, reported starting or increasing substance use, and the jury is still out on how this has affected the percentage increase in suicides.

In so many ways, a return to church could be the answer. God created us in His image to be social creatures who desire fellowship with others. Church provides a social network for those struggling with isolation, and connects those in need with the power of prayer and hope.

On a county level, it is clear that when disaster strikes, the church community is here to help. The Aug. 17 flooding in Haywood is a prime example. Individuals who experienced what would be anyone’s worst nightmare said over and over how volunteers with church groups simply showed up and helped dig out.

The outpouring of support from local church bodies hasn’t diminished even though the emergency has passed and a sustained recovery is called for. It is often during times of tremendous turmoil that the need for God’s presence in our lives is felt the strongest.

For that reason, you are invited to attend any one of the churches across the county who have Christmas celebrations scheduled. After spending 21 months addressing pandemic safety issues, most churches are adept at safety and protocol issues.

If you are down and out, feeling lonely or in need, there is hope in the knowledge that the God who made the universe, and who made you to be loved and blessed by Him.

All you have to do is seek Him. God sent His only son, born on Christmas Day, to take the punishment for the sins of this world. Jesus lived the life we should be living and died the death we all deserve and exchanged that for us to have everlasting life with God His father.

Come participate with others this Christmas in the joy of spreading the good news of the gospel. Gather with your friends and neighbors at a church celebrating the birth of our Savior this week.

Merry Christmas to all, and may the blessings of the season be with you and your family.

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