Right now, there is a lot of discussion about “reopening” the economy. The nation, states, counties, and cities are wondering what should and what should not be safe, vital, necessary. The discussion is important. There is also lots of talk about “reopening” the church. If I may parrot Bishop Michael Burk a bit, the church has never closed in this time.
The economic impact of this public health emergency has caused a great deal of suffering and stress for people who have lost paychecks, livelihoods, places of employment, and gained only a bundle of anxiety and fear about tomorrow. People, especially kids, are going hungry. Workers are, in too many cases, being forced to work when and where it seems unsafe. Economic and public health concerns need to be balanced in a way that seeks the common good. The decisions are new and novel because we have never been in this place and time before.
There is also lots of talk about “reopening” the church. If I may parrot Bishop Michael Burk a bit, the church has never closed in this time. It is an institution of unique character because Jesus Christ, through the power of Holy Spirit, has always been, and ever shall be, the source of life for the church. As such, the church cannot be closed for any reason. The buildings may be locked, and the ministers be holed up at home, maintaining physical distance, but the church is still open. It is in fact loose in the world spreading grace and blessing and new life even as we all quake in fear of this virus. The church may return to worship space; we may recreate our programs to proclaim the gospel; we may reimagine how we care for each other; we may reconsider what is essential moving forward, but reopening is unnecessary for the people of God.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “That is all very clever rhetoric, preacher, and I get your point. But, when do we get back to the way it was before? Or are we forever to gather in front of the TV and PC screen to worship?”
The first truth is that there is no going back to what was before. There never is. Time moves forward, never backward. These present moments of upheaval, opportunity, pain, blessing; of physical distance and washing your hands more than you ever did before will have lasting effect. There is no reset or restore button. The future is held in the hands of God and we are being drawn into it to embrace a reality we can “only see through a glass dimly.” (I Corinthians 13:12).
The second truth is that I do not have any idea at this point when we will come through this challenge and put the virus behind us so we can establish what shall be. Our eagerness to return is tempered by hard, scientific facts that tell us that vaccines are more than a year away and that there are months of infection and death ahead. I do know, however, that through whatever comes, we -- all of us – will work together to sustain a community rooted in the good news of Christ, which is about health and wholeness, and life.
The third truth I am pretty sure about is that things like online worship, Zoom meetings, online confirmation and church school are likely to be a longer term, rather than shorter term, reality and that these things will now likely never go away. They may grow.
Our Congregation Council will meet next week to discuss June, and perhaps the remainder of the summer. Armed with as much fact and a whole bunch more faith in Christ, we will make the most faithful decisions we can muster. We will be the church, open for mission, and open to the Spirit’s leading.
Tim Olson, Lead Pastor