The only safe way these days for Pastors and Priests to speak to their congregations is to preach to an empty sanctuary, except for a video camera in order to stream the service via the internet. It’s a way for these ministries to preach to their people who cannot congregate in groups of 10 or more, per the guidance of the CDC in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

It can be lonely for pastors, who are used to parishioners filling the pews in the church — especially this Sunday being Easter. But Cornerstone Church in St. Cloud has been a little less lonely on Sundays thanks  to a member of Senior Pastor Nathan Blackwell’s congregation.

Five year-old Ava Smith,  filled front rows of the sanctuary with stuffed animals for Palm Sunday, another holy day usually with a full sanctuary. She didn’t want Blackwell to be lonely. After all, he is her grandfather.

She surprised him with her stuffed friends along with a note that read, “Papa, I wanted to bring you some friends so you don’t have to preach alone.”

The loving gesture has made the rounds among the news and social media, as in FOX 35 recently.

The story goes that Ava’s mother, Ashley Smith, said the idea came up when her daughter started asking questions about social distancing, and wasn’t happy that the answer to who her Papa was preaching to Sundays was, “No one.”

At that point, Smith said Ava’s grandmother suggested she bring stuffed animals to keep her grandfather company. Blackwell said it has been an adjustment to preach to an empty room and he enjoyed the surprise, saying it, “Brought a smile to my heart in the midst of all this gloominess that seems to be going on.”

So, again tomorrow for Easter, it’s likely Pastor Nathan Blackwell, who also serves as Mayor of St. Cloud, won’t be preaching to an empty sanctuary, thanks to his granddaughter Ava, who certainly has made a positive difference in her grandfather’s heart, and in the community!