Do I have your attention? Just a warning: this post is a bit depressing. Sorry about that, but sometimes the bad news needs to be said aloud (or written) before we can tackle it and find the good news and important opportunities.
The Need to Gather
Humans are social animals. I could try to find articles to prove it, but, really, who is going to argue about this? It is a truth universally acknowledged. Not only would our interconnected society collapse without that interconnectivity (I, for one, don’t grow my own food or create my own electricity), but it is a psychological need. People differ in the amount of social interaction they need—related to the extrovert-introvert continuum—but even an introvert like me needs other people.
The Church Is a Gathering
There is a dual reality about the church. Directly relevant to this current pandemic, church is not a building or a worship service. It is the mystical Body of Christ united by the Spirit across all time and space. Worship can and does happen everywhere. However, it’s also about physically gathering. The writer of Hebrews says:
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”Hebrews 10:24-25
The words we use for the local church emphasize this (the word “church” itself notwithstanding). I tend to use the term “congregation” for the local church to make a distinction between that and the “holy catholic Church” we confess in the creeds. “To congregate” means to gather. The Greek word often translated as “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia, or “gathering.” Fellowship (koinonia or community) is an important part of “church.”
In terms of congregations gathering or not, we are in a lose-lose situation. That’s not surprising in that we are in a global pandemic. The highest risk settings for transmitting the virus are:
- More people gathered
- For a longer period
- Speaking or singing
- In a place with poor ventilation
This basically describes a worship service (with the possible exception of the ventilation). And the older a person is, the more likely that person will need to be hospitalized and worse. I don’t need to tell you that our congregations often tend toward the older side.
However, as I stated above, not gathering is also harmful for our mental and emotional wellbeing. It diminishes us spiritually. This social distancing is hitting older people very hard. However, that doesn’t mean that younger people are faring a whole lot better. Depression due to isolation is high within most age groups. But let me be clear: I am not suggesting churches should begin gathering in-person anytime soon. In fact, I advise delaying this and using extra caution.
A Silver Lining
Yay, cheery post, right? However bad things get, there is always hope. Always.
- God’s unstoppable love. One of my favorite Bible verses (or set of verses) is Romans 8:38-39, which reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Not even a pandemic.
- A virtual world. There are problems with relying on our virtual “reality,” but technology gives us possibilities for connection that have not existed before. This will be the subject of my post next week.
- Permanent changes. I’ll be dealing with this more in the next few weeks, but this horrible situation is presenting us with opportunities that can change things for the better, even after our lives can return to whatever “normal” will be in the future.
Faith Formation Resources
One of the permanent changes we can work toward is an improvement in faith practices in homes. For the rest of this summer, I am creating a free weekly devotional resource following the Revised Common Lectionary’s daily lectionary to help with this. Download this using the purple button below.
For the program year, we have two new, at-home, family-centered curricula. Living the Word: God’s Word @ Home follows the Revised Common Lectionary and Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home follows the Narrative Lectionary (i.e. gives a Bible overview). Each lesson includes a little background information, an introductory activity, a main activity for the Bible passage, and two additional activities. We also have a devotional resource Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home (Narrative Lectionary) that gives simple suggestions for daily devotions (family or individual).
See a review/overview of how all our products can be used as we are safer-at-home on our new page: Our Products and COVID-19.
In all things, God’s peace be with you,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)