As a pastor, sometimes you have weird conversations.
Before the pandemic, there were times when I would be out at the store or in a restaurant and see someone from our church who hadn’t been with us in worship for a while. I would exchange pleasantries as we all do, and then usually say something like “We miss you.” Inevitably, the person would begin telling me all that has happened to them over the past few months they had been away–they were traveling, got sick, had family in town, the dog ate their homework, and just about every other excuse they could think of for not attending. For whatever reason, “We miss you” was interpreted as “Why haven’t you been at church?” and they felt the need to explain themselves.
Maybe that’s just part of being the pastor, and people feeling guilty for not being with their church family in worship. Or maybe they were just trying to justify themselves, because they too had read the sign on I-65 north of Prattville: “Go to church, or the devil will get you.” And no one wants to get got by the devil.
I share that in this time of the COVID pandemic, as I have discovered that one of the most difficult things to communicate to those who have not been able to worship with us in this difficult season is, “We miss you.” We have tried to give people their space, and take the pressure off of explaining your family’s decisions about public involvement, while providing as many opportunities on-line for engaging in “normal” church life, despite the pandemic.
Certainly most of our church family members who have not been able to gather with us for in-person worship each week have made those decisions because they have accessed the risks for themselves and their families and determined that for them it was best to stay home. There are many variables that each family considers as they make their decisions, but as the virus and the pandemic has been politicized, everyone is on edge to explain their “side” of things. And it creates more weird conversations when the world seems to get divided between those who go out, and those who don’t.
And so, just like the conversations with wayward church members before the pandemic, sometimes the “We miss you’s” these days can be interpreted as “Why don’t you come to worship with the rest of us?” That is never the intention, to put someone on the defensive for making whatever decision they need to make. But unfortunately, it has also led a few times to neglecting the “We miss you’s” altogether, to avoid making people uncomfortable. And that is something I regret.
It has been encouraging that our attendance continues to increase, and we seem to have someone “new” come back to worship each Sunday. But that doesn’t mean that we are past COVID. We have taken the virus seriously, and tried to be responsible and careful to make people feel that our church gatherings are a safe place to be. Most have found that to be true.
Over the last six months since we have been back to in-person worship, we have had several people within our church family who have tested positive for COVID, but none who have come to worship and infected others. And all have come through the virus without any major lasting health issues. If you have been paying attention to the COVID numbers lately, you know there’s been a surge of positive tests of late. I know a number of people, including several of my own family members, who have tested posted in the last few weeks. Fortunately, none have really been that sick, but it certainly is a cause for concern as we head into the winter season.
All that to say, we will continue to be cautious and careful in all of our services and activities, every time we gather. But we will also understand that some are not yet ready to join us for in-person worship, so we will continue to try to “be the church” to all, whether we are gathered or scattered.
But please know, if you have not been able to be with us these past several months….We love you, we miss you, and we’re praying for you. No explanations–or weird conversations –necessary!
We will get through this thing together, and I am grateful for the privilege of being your pastor. I hope to see you on Sunday.