FAITH IS NOT CANCELED, even if your church is.
Things are changing fast. This past week has been full of “uncharted waters” for businesses, governments, events, churches, and individuals/families.
Like many other organizations the church that I am privileged to help pastor is in the middle of very difficult decisions… decisions that we have never had to wrestle with before.
Just yesterday we made the tough call to cancel our “in-person” worship services in favor of utilizing live stream technology to reach our church (because, make no mistake, the building which just canceled services is not the church… our people are).
SO WE’RE STILL HAVING CHURCH… even though it will feel a bit different.
Throughout the week, as churches in particular have dealt with these decisions, I have seen a consistent narrative on social media.
DOES FEAR CANCEL OUT FAITH?
I have seen many well intentioned people of faith critique churches who have decided to close their doors this Sunday. Even this past Sunday as our church took measures to ensure people’s safety when we had “in-person” worship, I still heard critiques...
In my context we chose to serve prepackaged communion wafer and cup sets which, admittedly, were not the easiest to open and can certainly rob the moment of some of the solemnity that accompanies communion. A friend of mine appropriately refers to these cups as “McJesus,” in reference to their overly convenient qualities where the sacrament is distilled down to something prepackaged and disposable.
Nevertheless we felt that this was the right decision to keep everyone safe and healthy, and not distracted with the question of “What if I get sick because I came?”
It was an issue of hospitality as much as it was an issue of health and cleanliness.
However, I wasn’t surprised when a parishioner protested, saying- essentially- that God would never let us get sick from communion.
I think the basic idea here is that God wouldn’t let harm come to us as long as we are doing something “holy.”
I didn’t have the words at the time, but I knew that this reasoning didn’t really ring true to me… just like the critics of churches who choose to close saying, “Your faith should be greater than your fear.”
*If God doesn’t let bad things happen to people who are engaged in something “holy,” then why would someone returning from a mission trip to Central America come down with a case of Montezuma’s Revenge?
*If God doesn’t let bad things happen to people who are engaged in something “holy,” then why would someone get into a car accident on the way to church?
*Perhaps more to the point, why and how do Christian martyrs exist? One would think that they were about some of the “holiest” work… standing up for their faith in the face of persecution and death. And yet, death still came.
But maybe more importantly, I have a difficult time with the way that we seem to be bifurcating our lives; as if there are regular things and then super holy things that we do.
Somehow we have found ourselves categorizing our existence so that receiving communion is a “holy” act (and I believe it is), but going to work or spending quality time with our kids or getting out for some exercise isn’t.
Frankly, I believe that anything which is drawing us closer to the image of God is a deeply holy experience.
And yes, I may injure myself while on a run and I may get frustrated at work and I may (probably will at some point!) get sick from being around my daughter and her friends...
And it’s possible to catch a cold, or something worse, through communion or coming to church.
Just look at Paul’s words from the book of Romans:
“Does it mean [Christ] no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ...No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”
-ROMANS 8:35, 37-38
Paul doesn’t say that Christ will keep these things from happening. No, he says that these things (when they DO happen) will not separate us from Christ’s love.
And so, knowing the potential IS there to get sick, I believe it is our responsibility as the church to keep our churches, families, and communities healthy. It is our responsibility to do our part as larger assembling groups to curb the spread of this virus and help heal our world.
It is our responsibility to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of the other.
So no, I don’t think that fear cancels out faith. I think a healthy FEAR can make us more AWARE, which will open us up to effective CARE for others in need.
Healthy FEAR leads us to CARE.
So stay in town, enjoy your families and close friends, and check on those who are most vulnerable.
There are so many more ways to BE the church than just by simply GOING to church.