Two weeks ago, our church began new ways to “Pass the Peace” of Christ during worship. Watching from the front, it was a typical and beautiful expression of Baptist individuality. There were fist bumps, elbow shakes, waves and peace signs flashed and my favorite, now affectionally identified by us as, the “Holy Hollywood Air Kiss.” Quickly, things have changed and are now far more serious. As we watch the spread of confirmed cases of COVID-19 all over the world and experience the sobering realities of mass cancelations of travel, meetings, and gatherings both large and small, we seek to ready ourselves for an uncertain future that is changing day-by-day and moment-by-moment.
Faced with such legitimate concerns, our church has responded with a sincere desire to use this crisis as an opportunity to extend our care and love for one another while taking necessary precautions to protect the safety and health of our most vulnerable and at-risk populations.
First, we are moving our 11 a.m Sunday Worship Service to our online YOUTUBE live stream channel (see the website for our link). We don’t know how long this will be necessary and we will make decisions each week trying to let you know as soon as we are able. In the meantime, we encourage your faithful attendance online. You can watch the service(s) live or later at your convenience. The service will be shorter than usual, broadcast live from our sanctuary and tailored for this format. It will provide an opportunity for you to respond in real-time to one another (you know, like passing notes in church, only everyone can read them!). If you don’t know how to do any of this, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk you through it.
As you watch, use this time to offer up your concerns. Lean on your faith. Be engaged by taking notes or closing your eyes to just listen. Remember to pray for another. Prayer knows no separation of time or distance. It may be more challenging to stay connected, but we can do it with our combined and focused effort. This format can be worshipful, but it will require more intentionality than what we normally bring to watching TV. If you can, please don’t forget your giving. There are links on our website to help you.
Next, we are encouraging you to stay connected to one another by way of that good ol’ fashioned invention called the telephone (it’s an app… on your smartphone). We are surrounded by so many text messages, emails, postings and newsfeeds on social media, it might actually be nice to finally hear a real human voice speaking directly to you on the phone. Use this time to pick up the phone and check-in on one another. Our deacons are committed to help stay up to date with our needs. Pass along anything you feel they (or me, or any of our staff) need to know. We can improve our caring and communication pathways by revisiting this once familiar practice we may have long forgotten. Social distancing does not need to equal social disengagement.
We are also trying to stay diligent in accessing any local needs or collection drives (toilet paper anyone?) that may need our sponsoring or promotion. For example, we are concerned about school children with adequate food if our schools are canceled. We are aware that many health and benevolence agencies may experience a surge in need and will need the community’s support. As these needs become known, we will do our best to respond.
Finally, we hope to stay hopeful, compassionate and cooperative. Like you, I’m hoping this virus will not spread as widely as we fear. But I am bracing myself for the first name that belongs to someone I personally know who may be tested presumptively positive. I’m fearing the day when that first fatality may visit my shore. But this crisis is greater than my social network. It will impact thousands, if not millions once you consider those who are not only health compromised, but also economically vulnerable and hurting.
It may be easy to start feeling discouraged. If not yet, we may soon start feeling frustrated and very angry. We may, quite literally, want to dig deeper into our holes, bury our heads and just wait for the storm to pass over us or take us on to our final, eternal home.
Or we can be the church. We can be ready to bring food to the elderly neighbor who is afraid to go to the grocery store. We can call the family member banned from visiting their loved one in the nursing home and tell them we understand and are sorry. We can say thank you to a doctor, nurse or paramedic who may be asked to do their life-saving jobs without proper protections or equipment. We can slip a check in the mail for the struggling family finding it hard to make ends meet or the person who was just laid off from a service industry job. We can increase our giving to the causes that need us. We can teach our children how to be strong in a crisis by resisting what may become a pandemic of fear. We can pray for the vulnerable and ask God to deliver us and them, even when we don’t know how or when God will do so. We can use our added time to stay home to grow more deeply into our spiritual lives. In these ways and so many others, we will experience the love of Christ.
For now, the building may be closed, but the church is still open. Perhaps, with a little creativity and determination, we will discover how to get outside our walls and past our comfortable habits, in order to be the church renewed, reformed and reforming all over again.
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