No April Fooling: Church IS Open
I am not crazy. The Church IS Open. Nor am I being stupid or reckless. The Church IS Open. The Church IS Open and lots of wonderful things are being done. Church IS Open.
Church is NOT closed. The church building; that's another story and it IS closed.
I got to thinking about this and the "children's" hymn that so plainly spells it out:
"I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
All around the world!
Yes, we're the church together!
The church is not a building;
The church is not a steeple;
The church is not a resting place;
The church is a people."
We tend to think of church as a physical place, but that's just a part of it.
The hymn also says:
“And when the people gather,
There’s singing and there's praying;
There’s laughing and there's crying sometimes,
All of it saying..."
When we gather, we ARE the church. And just to make it perfectly clear, we don't have to gather together in the same physical space. With a worldwide pandemic, it is best if we DON'T all physically gather together in one space. Jesus said (in Luke 13:34-35) "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” He did not say infect one another, which is what could be doing if we were NOT practicing social distancing. (Actually, I like the term physical distancing better; we can be very social without being physically close.) We can better love one another, care for one another and BE the people Christ teaches us to be by being responsible and following medical guidelines at this time.
Back in February (doesn't that seem like YEARS ago?), I spoke at my church. (https://bfthsboringblog.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-lie.html) One of the things I said then was: "God is all about change. Not change for change's sake, but change for the better. Change in order to move forward in service to God. Because service requires change; it requires us to think and act in new ways in order to meet the need." (How pretentious is it of me to quote myself?) I never thought my words would have been put into such extreme action.
Churches around the world are doing just what I said: THINKING and ACTING in new ways in order to meet the need.
A friend of mine who also happens to be an ordained minister has starts off his service by welcoming people to the church with whatever season it is: so last week he would have welcomed us to the 5th Sunday in Lent. But for the past three weeks he's started a new church "time;" Extraordinary Time. (This is also a play on words as when it is not a specific "season" [Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter] in the church the time is referred to as ordinary.) This coming Sunday will be the 4th Sunday in "Extraordinary" time. And that's exactly what this time is; extraordinary. From where I stand, the Church has responded to the extraordinary.
I have actually been MORE active in my church since we have been unable to gather in the "traditional" way. Before there were restrictions, I took part in "parking lot" church (where we stayed in our cars and had a service outside.). I've attended another church's early Sunday morning service via Zoom. I've watched weekly spiritual "coffee breaks" offered by my pastor. I've participated in weekly prayer meetings via phone and computer. I've been part of a Facebook church viewing party. There are so many wonderful ways to connect and BE CHURCH without physically BEING in the church building. In a time when Church could be stagnant, it is instead refreshed and full of new vigor. Extraordinary indeed!
This Sunday is Palm Sunday and last year my church started a wonderful new tradition where we took palms outside after the service and burned them (for next year's ashes). It was a wonderful new part of the service and I was looking forward to it again this year. That is not to be THIS year. But there will be other years. Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter will look a lot different in 2020. But Church will go on and these holy days will be commemorated in new creative ways; ways that honor these most holy days, but also respect the safety and health of people. That's what devoted and creative Christians do. (Actually, that's what devoted and creative people of all walks of religious life do.)
These times are hard and stressful, but I am grateful to be part of a Church (actually Churches) that have revived my spirit. My faith is renewed; my hope restored thanks to the inventive thinking and actions of the church.