Doing Church in a Pandemic

Church Decorated for Easter 2019

I've been around for a few years, well more than a few.  Over six-plus decades of life, I've been in church. I was essentially born into the church. I grew up in the church, and never really looked back. Sure, I've been part of a variety of Christian traditions, but church has been at the center of my life. I studied ministry in college, went to seminary, got ordained (back in 1985), earned a Ph.D. in theology, and for the past two decades, I've served as the pastor of three different churches. Never in all my years of life or of ministry have I seen something like this moment. It's not something they teach in seminary, nor would you expect them to. Yes, churches face moments of crisis, but nothing like this, at least not with any regularity.

So how do you do church when you can't meet for worship, for study groups, or for fellowship? Large congregations that have a robust digital presence have certain advantages in that they probably have staff members focused on tech issues and can create online events in ways most of our smaller congregations cannot. We're trying to be creative, but that's not easy. We could make use of more professionally developed resources, but my sense is that the members of our congregations want to see the familiar face of their pastor, not some possibly famous preacher they have no personal relationship with. We may not be able to put on a presentation with the same level of professional quality, but we can make ourselves available to our people. That is what many of us are doing. 

I've been watching with great interest my colleagues discuss their attempts to be the church at this moment. We're trying all kinds of things, and not everything works. This is a constant learning experience. What we did this past Sunday might need to be redone this coming Sunday. And, what about Easter? How do recreate the pageantry of Easter? 

One thing I do know is that churches are resilient. Not every church survives difficult times, but most do, even small ones. They do so because the people demonstrate grit but also a great deal of faith in God and in themselves. One thing I've already noticed as I've begun to call around to my older members, who value their fellowship with one another deeply, that they are already calling each other, keeping in touch with each other. They didn't wait for the pastor to encourage it, though I've done that! They care about each other. It's why small churches are resilient.

I'm nearing the end of my ministerial life (as a full-time pastor), so hopefully, I'll never see something like this again before I retire. Hopefully, the same is true for my younger colleagues. But, whether we ever experience something like this again, I expect we will learn much about ourselves. This is true of clergy. It's true of faith communities, large and small. Once the dust clears, we can start to tell our stories. Right now we're probably feeling overwhelmed, but this will pass. I'm not sure when it will pass, but it will. In the meantime, we can stand on the promises of God.  We might want to begin telling our stories, even now, while we're in the midst of the crisis moment, lest we forget.


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