Being Church = Essential
One of the many things we have learned in these days is a new vocabulary. Phrases such as “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” or “shelter in place” have become a part of our everyday conversations. Yet, there is one particular phrase with which many, especially the Church, is struggling to make sense of and that is “essential and non-essential.”
Public health officials have instructed we can dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19 by ceasing to gather with persons who do not live in our own household and by limiting our “non-essential activities.” Because in-person worship services, meetings and activities of the local church would gather people together who do not live in the same household, such things have been suspended for the sake of public safety.
For many communities of believers, for many religious leaders, the idea of their work being classified as “non-essential” has felt not only strange, but also a bit insulting. How could they be a community, how could they carry out their purpose and mission without meeting in person? Yet, knowing how vital worship is to a faith community, immediately churches, synagogues, temples, and houses of worship throughout the world sought to adjust and develop new ways of inviting people to worship, devotion, prayer, and connection. They had to think and act differently as communities of faith.
As a result, some very beautiful and authentic practices have emerged. Recorded worship services, which have had a wider reach. Videos of pastors and leaders in their homes offering words of comfort, songs, and prayers and shared on social media platforms. Phone calls and hand-written notes to connect with and engage members of the community. Online fellowship times through which people are given entry into a slice of each person’s lives and homes (often with beloved pets making cameo appearances). There have also been real, unfiltered offerings of worship and devotion being offered by religious leaders to the people they have been called to serve. What religious communities and their leaders realized is that it is not essential to be in the same room, sitting right next to one another to be connected by the presence of the Divine.
For our churches, gathering “in-person” for any activity at the moment is “non-essential” as it can and has increased the spread and exposure to the virus. However, that does not mean we give up connecting with one another and seeking to spread the Good News and hope of the Christ. Now, more than ever, it is vital; no, it is “essential” that we continue to worship, study, pray, reach out to others and give to support the mission and purpose of the Church. In this moment, we are being called, challenged and stretched to learn new ways of continuing to be the Church together. I believe as we seek new ways of being the Church, we will become stronger, and we will build something beautiful for ourselves, our children and generations to come.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister