A church in our community made the decision to open its doors, taking precautions. I don’t think it’s the most faithful decision, but what troubles me more are the reasons given for making the decision. Three points this particular church made to which I would like to offer my thoughts:
1. “Not being able to gather is the definition of what a church is”. A church is a community of people who are “called out.” Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew that “where two or three gathered in my name.” Is this ideal right now? No. It stinks to not being able to gather in mass in person. Does changing the way we gather mean it’s not church? No way. It should strengthen our belief that the church is not a building we go to, rather a community of “called out” people.
2. “We are officially in a situation where your religious freedom has been removed in the interest of the public health.” I just don’t know how one gets to this opinion. It feels to me like a statement meant to stoke fear and discredit community leaders. We are still free to practice religion. Also, the church is not without responsibility to protect public health. Not gatheirng is what God’s love looks like in this time. It’s currently one of the most faithful things we can do as followers of Jesus. Read the Gospels and you will see that Jesus was a fan of public health. Following Jesus is rarely easy. This isn’t easy. However, your religious freedom hasn’t been removed in this time.
3. “The physically well are growing emotionally and spiritually sick.” As I said, this is a difficult time. People are struggling with feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness, among other things. However, the idea that people cannot find wholeness and healing unless they come into your particular building doesn’t fly with me. Many people have found more time for prayer, study, and silence. Some have reconnected with family and friends they didn’t previously talk with much. Through online worship, church is going to people. Churches have been creative in connecting with people and providing opportunities for spiritual growth. This global pandemic has also given some the pause they needed to take stock of their lives and callings from God. Bottom line, if we are solely dependent on gathering in a particular building for spiritual health, we are in deep trouble.
Let me close by saying that this is a difficult time, especially for those making decisions. We do well when we practice humility in leaning into the wisdom of others