You have probably seen on the news this week the stories about pastors across the country who have been arrested for going against quarantine and social distancing orders during the coronavirus crisis to hold public worship services anyway. I will admit I am torn on this issue, mainly because of religious liberty implications as it relates to the church’s fundamental Constitutional rights.
My main concern is, in this time of pandemic, the government establishing a precedent in determining that churches are “non-essential,” and shutting them down. There are chilling implications any time government authorities start making decisions about any religious services, and I fear this may come back to haunt us later when those same precedents are used against the church for other political or cultural motivations.
Now, let me say, I believe that churches in the current pandemic should do the responsible thing during this time, and participate in social distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus. In that light I have no problem canceling our services at Shelby Crossings. And for the record, I think most of those pastors who are in the news are grandstanding more than they are standing up for their first amendment rights. They certainly are not providing a good example of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. But I will try not to judge their motives or their hearts.
Having said all that, it is very sad not to be able to meet together each week with our church family. You have probably already heard the news that this week we extended the postponement of our public worship services two more weeks, until at least April 19–and it could very possibly stretch out longer than that. Fortunately, our livestream services have gone very well and seem to be having a positive impact, both for our members and those outside our fellowship. In fact, we have had over 2,000 views of the last two weeks’ services–and often one view included whole families. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to extend our ministry beyond our walls to people literally all over the world.
Whatever the case, if and when you hear that church is “closed” because of the pandemic, don’t believe it for a minute. You can’t close the church, because as we have been talking about for some time, we are not a place, but a people. We are the church, wherever we are. Likewise, we are not defined by weekly services at specific times, but by 24/7 relationships grounded in our common bond with Christ. Yes, we miss our weekly gatherings–for now–though it’s been cool to see people adapt to the quarantine and incorporate technology into weekly meetings with small groups and friends.
And in so many ways that are good, like Elvis, the church “has left the building.” This crisis has stopped our busy schedules in their tracks, and with that many have found time to reach out and serve our neighbors in some creative ways, all while practicing responsible social distancing. I’ll share a few examples of people being the hands and feet of Jesus, serving others in and around our community.
Some made sack meals and took them to the Walmart parking lot in Calera, where the truckers park, and gave them away. It was an opportunity to serve those who couldn’t go through the drive thru, but also a way of saying thanks to some of those unsung heroes who serve us behind the scenes every day. Others made “bored bags” of crafts and games and distributed them to families in their neighborhood who have children. We heard from several families who were blessed by this simple act of kindness.
We got a huge supply of fresh Starbucks goodies donated last week, and spent several hours distributing them to those who are shut-in and at risk, as well as taking a bunch of them to the nurses and medical personnel working tirelessly and selflessly at Shelby Hospital. That very Sunday morning, I had mentioned in my (livestreamed) message that some of us don’t even know our neighbors two doors down. Well, that afternoon I took some of those Starbucks pastries and walked door to door in my neighborhood–at safe distances, mind you–and gave them out, meeting several neighbors I didn’t know, and hopefully opening up doors of relationships that the Lord will use to allow us to serve them again, and share the love of Christ.
And of course many of us have been able to use technology to stay connected within our church body. Several of our small groups have met using Zoom or Skype, or even FaceTime, and our youth group and children’s ministries have had some great “virtual” meetings, to do Bible studies and fun activities together. We’ve had moms getting together for encouragement online, and others doing one-on-one discipling through Bible apps, and we are continually looking at new ways of stretching our ministry to connect with more people. It’s not perfect, and you can’t replace the experience of face-to-face community in real life, but it’s still the church being the church where we are with what we’ve got.
Some of the saddest news for all of us is that we have already had to cancel our public worship services for Easter Sunday, coming up next week (April 12), as well as activities we had planned for families on the Saturday before. But make no mistake, Easter has not been cancelled, nor could it ever be. The church building may be empty that Sunday, but so is the tomb! Jesus is still risen, and as we often say, when you serve a risen Savior, every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, wherever you are!
So know this, things may be different for now, and they may be for a while to come, but the church is “open for business.” We are out of our comfort zones, for sure, but I pray we never get comfortable again. Lord, help us to be Your church, faithfully living our lives on mission, wherever we go, long after this crisis has passed.
I do miss you all, and I am praying for you daily. If you have a need, or if there’s any way we can serve you, be sure to let us know. In the mean time, be safe, be wise, be careful and be faithful. And remember, God has got this!