Religion in the Time of Coronavirus
Donna Van Cleve
On Sunday, March 8, 2020, I joined around 300 others in worship together in our church, and the next week a pandemic forced us to stay home. All public events with more than 10 people attending were canceled. Church staffs across the country scrambled to move “worship service” to online formats through various means such as Facebook, Vimeo, Zoom, etc. Kudos to all of those who have quickly adapted in this unprecedented time of social distancing and shelter-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For Sunday services, some pastors have chosen to pre-record a sermon or Bible study lesson to be sent out via email or social media. Most of the church services I’ve viewed, though, are holding live services through FaceBook feeds or Zoom broadcasts from their homes or empty sanctuaries. Some are including their staff or other church members in the live service to pray, read scripture, lead in intercessory prayer, or even share a brief sermon for children. Other churches are using pre-recorded worship music either by their praise teams or others’ music borrowed off the Internet. Some churches use clips of hymns recorded from previous worship services interspersed throughout the live worship service and invite viewers to worship in song with them. I have enjoyed virtually visiting other churches and worshiping with them, including churches of ministers from my past. Others are worshiping with churches on television. I’m so grateful we have a variety of technological means to allow all of us to continue to worship collectively.
This is the worship space my sons set up in their home for Easter Sunday. The crystal cross belonged to my mother. I love that three generations have enjoyed sharing this symbol of our faith. Photo by Blake Huffman
I could use some guidance on how to worship in our own homes, though. My dad and I have enjoyed worshiping live with my sons and their home church in Washington, D.C. — Foundry United Methodist Church, which airs an hour before our home church’s sermon. Pastor Ginger Gaines-Cirelli of Foundry encourages her flock to create a worshipful space in their homes and to light a candle at the beginning of the service. I like that. Associate pastors also stay online following the service to pray with anyone needing prayer or to talk. Accessibility and availability are crucial in this time of physical separation for churches.
One recent Sunday Foundry invited members to eat together following the service in a 'virtual potluck’, and participants were able to communicate and continue experiencing community. I love that idea.
Pastor Ginger said that going back to worshiping together at Foundry may involve a transition time of meeting in small groups of 10 or 20 in homes for a while. Does that sound familiar? The young church in Acts consisted of “home churches,” and we may all go back to those roots for a while. Small groups invite intimacy, accountability, and getting to know one another on deeper levels. That could be a good thing when it’s so easy to stay on the periphery of a church sitting incognito in the pews among the masses.
I appreciate the efforts churches are making to continue meeting together online. Members can respond in several ways. Those who choose to watch a taped sermon can watch it at any time, but then it becomes more of a Bible lesson than a worship service. I prefer a live service with all of its potential imperfections because I feel more connected knowing I am worshiping with other Christians in real time. Other members may respond to this time of physical distancing by taking a vacation from church altogether without the accountability of physical presence in church. To be honest, this time of physical separation has made me realize I have at times allowed church attendance to take the place of nurturing and growing my relationship with the Lord. The best response is for us to use this time to strengthen our relationship with God through Christ.
Could the ‘great falling away’ the Bible refers to in the end times be induced by a pandemic keeping the church members physically apart? Could the situation of physical distancing be the instrument of separating those whose faith was based on attendance of church activities versus a genuine relationship with God through Christ, which is being tested during this time?
A genuine relationship with the Lord prompts behavior change. We are in the world, but not of the world. That doesn’t mean we separate ourselves from those outside of a relationship with Christ, but our words and actions should not sound and look like the rest of the world, especially in response to crises. Ask God for wisdom. Ask Him to help you recognize truth in the world today. Stay in the Word and ask Him to give you discernment. A healthy relationship with the Lord involves two-way communication and not just a recitation of what we would have God do or provide for us or others. Two-way communication means learning to be quiet at times and listen for those thoughts that would not come naturally to us. And if they line up with what Christ would do, we are on the right track.
June 2020 - Faith
Our 'worshipful space' I set up on Sunday mornings to worship God along with my sons & my daughter connected virtually