The church I serve chose not to close because of COVID-19.
The reason is very simple - the Church as the Body of Christ is essential to the wellbeing of the country and the world. Closing would be an abdication of our responsibility. What has happened since the decision not to close has been remarkable.
- Our worship attendance has consistently been higher, with some weeks topping 25% more people than the same Sunday one year ago. People who used to call our church home and people who are brand new are all finding their way to us.
- Financial support of the church's ministries has remained strong, with some people picking up where others have had to reduce giving.
- Additionally, the people of the church have given generously to special funds for the support of fellow members who have been adversely effected.
- Beyond our doors, we have partnered with a nearby congregation and school to ensure that kids who are out of school have access to good nutrition. We have also continued to support other mission work in the community that we were involved with.
- Our creative staff has excelled in finding ways to involve people in worship, education, and soon in our kids summer camp who otherwise would not be as connected and our musicians have stepped up to the moment with the sharing of their gifts.
- The congregation has stepped up to the challenge of the moment with flexibility and understanding that goes beyond what I would have envisioned. I am deeply grateful to them.
- Members have also increased their usual number of "random acts of kindness," making a difference in the community on those occasions when they get out and lifting people's spirits with calls, emails, and notes.
There have certainly been challenges for us. The biggest one is that we have had to remain open without one of our greatest assets - our building. The government, rightfully, told churches to close their buildings so that we won't accidentally spread a harmful and sometimes deadly disease. This is no different than in 1918 except that today we have infinitely more options for connecting with each other and the world than we did 100 years ago.
The government can close a building, temporarily, for the wellbeing of the community. The government can't close the Church. Nobody can do that any more than they can stop children and teens from silently praying in schools. The Church can't be closed because, like the old song says, the Church is not the building. The Church is the Body of Christ. The only way that the Church can be shut down is if the Body decides to shut itself down. Even then, something tells me that Christ's name would still be praised.
So about 10 weeks ago we closed our building. The same day, we opened the door to a new way of being the Body and living our faith. We're still figuring it out and we still look forward to getting back into the sanctuary, hopefully someday soon. But, building or not, we're still open for the essential work that we are called to fulfill.