By Ed Thompson
God is at work in the midst of the disruption we are experiencing. Our churches have quickly adapted to online worship, online Bible study, and online meetings. Many have adopted online giving as well. (If your church hasn’t taken this step yet, you should. Check out the services offered by the Presbyterian Foundation. )
I wouldn’t have thought this was possible. Presbyterians typically move slowly. While I hate the saying “God’s frozen chosen,” there is an element of truth to that motto. If we can appoint a committee to study an issue, we will. I’m sure there are churches that have been talking about doing things online for years but weren’t quite able to convince themselves that they needed to do this or they couldn’t agree on what to do or how to do it or perhaps they felt that it was going to be too expensive or that it wasn’t really necessary. Now, as a result of the coronavirus, many churches have stepped into the 21st century in less than month, no committees involved. It’s a miracle.
This pandemic has also given new life and new purpose to the Deacons, or to what some churches call Area Shepherds, as they are being much more intentional about reaching out and calling their members to check in on them, to see if they need any help and to explain how they can access their church’s worship services. Many sessions have stepped up in this way too. We may actually be more connected and have better relationships now than we did less than a month ago. It’s amazing.
So far, at least most churches also seem to be doing OK financially. There is some concern that this may not last if the pandemic stretches out for several more months, but for now, people seem to have continued to give and some are giving generously in light of this crisis. (Upon reflection, though, I realize that many of the folks I’ve been hearing from have been in larger churches. Maybe smaller churches are having a harder time? If your church is having some financial challenges, please let us know. I can’t promise anything, but maybe there’s a way we can help.)
At this point, however, we really don’t know how long it might be before we can gather together safely. While I would love to see our churches packed on Easter Sunday, I doubt that’s going to happen this year – and part of me hopes it doesn’t. While I love to see crowded churches on Easter and I have a somewhat fond memory of being turned away from a church on Easter while I was in college because the sanctuary was too crowded, it just seems dangerous to have that many people that close together before this pandemic is more under control. I think we might end up inviting our younger members to get sick and perhaps condemning our older members to a premature death if we try to go back to our normal habits too soon.
While the governor has indicated that churches are to be considered “essential businesses” and therefore exempt from his Stay at Home order, we need to use our common sense. Stay away from your church building as much as you possibly can. Someone will need to check the mail and listen to phone messages. I can also understand that there is a certain comfort in offering worship from your church sanctuary, even if there are only three or four people inside at one time and they all maintain the appropriate social distancing. I’ve got to think, though, that we can find other ways to handle these things. Now is the time to be creative, to learn from others, and to stay safe.
Please check out this link on the presbytery’s website that lists what our churches are doing to offer alternatives to in-person worship. If your church isn’t on the list and you are still offering worship in some way, let us know. If we have misunderstood or mischaracterized what you’re doing, let us know. The office is closed, but we’re still working from our homes. Don’t hesitate to contact us, so we can provide you with the best, most up-to-date information.
I am proud of the pastors of this presbytery. I have been impressed by what they are doing to help their churches maintain their ministry and continue their worship. I am proud of those serving as hospital chaplains as well. Even in normal times, they have stressful jobs. but it seems that the stress level keeps getting turned up as more and more people come down with this disease.
I am convinced, however, that God is at work in all this. I have seen and heard of the ways God is blessing us. I have a sense of hope that our churches might actually be stronger because of this pandemic. Perhaps like the people of Israel waiting at the edge of the Red Sea or the women making their way to the tomb on that first Easter morning, we have only to wait and see how our God will surprise us.