It all began 34 years ago when Pastor Mike Ray had just found the church. He was looking for a way to add a blessing to his community, and to meet the needs of a town where, at the time, 82% of the people were not part of a church. And while Pastor Ray didn't have money to advertise, he did have the realization that many people would have no one to turn to when loved ones passed away. He even noticed that the term "no services planned" kept reappearing in obituaries in the local newspaper.

That was when Pastor Ray went to every funeral home in town and offered his services along with a business card with his phone number. And in many ways that can be seen as the beginning of Hopewell Baptist Church. From the beginning, Pastor Ray set himself apart from others by offering to waive the fee for his services, insisting he did it to give comfort, not for material gain. Word soon spread, and Pastor Ray would receive calls requesting his services.

It was not just waiving his fees that set the funerals of Pastor Ray apart. It was the personalized and thoughtful services which he always delivered. With every funeral, Pastor Ray, and Hopewell Baptist Church seeks to accomplish two goals.

First of these is that the services honor the person who has passed away. This means not making the funeral about the church, but focusing it on the individual. Pastor Ray invests time with each funeral, learning about the person who has passed, finding out personal information, such as what their passions and dreams were, what their education and jobs were, who their relatives were. There are a lot of things to learn about everyone, and with Pastor Ray sometimes being the only person to speak, it is a large responsibility, one he takes seriously. In fact, a goal of his is always to have the audience saying "I never knew that about them, I never knew they did that." Pastor Ray believes in celebrating each person as interesting.

The second goal for Hopewell Baptist Church in offering funeral services is to give comfort to those who have lost a loved one. Pastor Ray understands that grief never goes away entirely, and it hurts to lose a loved one, it's part of loving someone, and it takes time to recover. Pastor Ray believes in using Hopewell Baptist Church as a resource in dealing with the many emotions, like anger, denial, and depression that can come with this sudden grief.

As a Christian, Pastor Ray takes comfort and seeks to offer comfort in talking about eternity and the afterlife. A quote he likes to say at funerals is, "This is just a comma if you're a Christian, it's not a period. It's not a 'Good-bye' it's an 'I'll see you later.'" For those who have accepted the Lord, Pastor Ray will often include that story in his funeral sermon.

Over the years, Pastor Ray has delivered 462 funerals. In all instances, Pastor Ray focuses on the positive. He doesn't bring up negative aspects of the person's life. And he brings the same care and attention to detail whether there are 600 in attendance at a funeral service or just two.

Hopewell Baptist Church has stepped up to once again meet the needs of the community in this time of Covid. While last year, there was the need to perform some graveside only services, now by using masks and social distancing, Pastor Ray is able to offer more traditional services as well. A year ago, he notes, funeral homes were shut down entirely, making it impossible for people to properly grieve.

The governor has categorized churches as an essential service, allowing Hopewell Baptist Church to stay open. And while they cannot have indoor services in their county, they are able to offer a full experience while taking numerous precautions against the spread of the coronavirus. To learn more about the services they offer and what precautions they take, read the section at the end of this article.

And Pastor Ray has worked to make funerals available to people across boundaries despite the coronavirus. This starts with a large outdoor tent set up at Hopewell Baptist Church where seating is offered in socially distant family groups. People are requested to wear masks, though they may remove them when seated. People who have experienced symptoms or been exposed to someone who has experienced symptoms in the last 14 days are asked to stay home, as is anyone with a fever.

But even those who can't be there in person are not left out of being able to attend the services as these are live-streamed, allowing all to attend, those virtually online, and those in-person coming together at the same time to grieve and celebrate a life.

To this day, Pastor Ray continues not to charge a regular fee. While many will give a little cash to the pianist, there is no formal charge. People are welcome to make a gift in the offering plate or mail a check-in, but Pastor Ray is committed to being "a giving church, not a taking church."

Recently, through the height of the pandemic, Hopewell Baptist Church sought to further serve the community by publishing a book titled How to Plan a Christian Funeral. While it is geared towards pastors, with a lot of ideas on how to give comfort, it can be a useful guide for anyone who may need to plan a funeral in the future.

Precautions That Hopewell Baptist Church Is Taking During Covid
While the threat of Covid is ongoing, Hopewell Baptist Church has continued offering services. These include Adult Bible Study, Sunday School, and Recovery RU. In response to recent Supreme Court rulings, the state of California is allowing churches to have indoor services. While in the “purple tier”, Napa County is able to meet indoors at 25% capacity. Social distancing between families and sanitation protocols will remain in place.

Those who cannot attend in person are invited to join on-line at their website. The live-stream is available in both English and Spanish. Hopewell Baptist Church also offers a podcast with their latest sermons.

For those who do attend, masks are highly encouraged for all visitors over the age of 5. Once seated, people may remove their masks, but they are asked to wear their masks whenever they have left their immediate seating area. There are masks provided at entrances for those who may have forgotten theirs.

Hand sanitizing stations have been set up throughout the area.

There is a cleaning protocol that cleans the seats after each use. Bathrooms are only available for emergency use and are sanitized after each use.

Those who have symptoms, or who have been exposed to someone with symptoms in the last 14 days are asked to remain at home and live-stream services instead. As is anyone with a fever over 100°.

Author's Bio: 

Hannah is a professional writer who loves to make research on unique topics and express her thoughts by content writing.