The decision to stay open has not been easy.
Honestly, we’ve been under a lot of pressure from different groups to close our doors. Being on the outskirts, we aren’t subject to the same mandates as others, but we chose to lockdown and go virtual with the rest of the city earlier this summer. It seemed like the sensible, responsible thing to do. And, like everyone, we thought it would be merely two or three weeks to “flatten the curve.”
When our first Sabbath Zoom got thousands of views, it confirmed that we were doing the right thing. I’d like to think it was a really good sermon, but it was more a reflection of the national hunger for spiritual food. Covid-19 has been surprisingly good for virtual church attendance.
Or it was.
All pastors are worried about the influence of Zoom on church life. On one hand, it allows churches to reach many more people, and a special niche the church otherwise hadn’t been reaching. But it also breaks a person’s habit of going to church.
What happens when we open the doors again? Will people come back? Of course, it’s nice to watch the service when it’s convenient, in your pajamas. But there’s something intangible that’s missing when we aren’t “face-to-face.” We are spiritually stronger together, and religion is not a solitary act. God commands us to love Him and love people. If we truly know God, we love God; and if we truly love God, it will overflow into loving people. We were made to fully connect with God and man. Something is lost when that connection is virtual.
When New Creation began a hybrid approach of meeting in-person and on Zoom, we took out the hugging part of our Family Focus (much to the relief of some introverts!), which is a unique part of New Creation’s culture and reputation. So for you huggers, know that this wasn’t an easy decision. It was a huge disappointment to cancel our Easter program; and the drive-in Easter morning church (on possibly the coldest day of spring) wasn’t quite the same. The first Sabbath back, we spread out our seating, took precautions with the snacks and beverages, and offered free masks at the door. We encouraged the vulnerable to watch from home. We felt that it’s important to protect each other, at least as much as it’s important to worship.
“How” we worship has created some division. In some ways, our biggest fear has come true. Pastor Mike and the board worried most about how to remain open, continue to minister to those online, and make sure both groups feel neither put down nor put out for their convictions. In such a contentious season where everything is weighed politically, some people feel hurt on all sides. Ironically, there are no “sides.” Only one family trying to maneuver a difficult time.
I know some people come to New Creation because we don’t enforce mask-wearing, and some stay away exactly because we don’t. I’m saddened that anyone would discourage or shame people for attending any church because of the whole mask issue. They say, “because Science!” I would say, “Agreed. And because God.”
It reminds me of the story of Daniel, when King Darius mandated that people could pray to no other god but Darius. Daniel could have prayed at home with his drapes shut. Instead he prayed in the window for all to see. I can imagine that many of his fellow Jews were angry, fearing that repercussions for his disobedience would fall on them as well. He alone was thrown into the lions’ den; but he stood up for God, and God stood up for him. God used the situation to tell Darius – and the world – that God’s laws supersede our own.
It’s a complicated situation, because I would never advocate that we endanger anyone. We’ve lost wonderful people this year to Covid. And cancer. And loneliness. But if we trust a piece of cloth more than we trust God; if we don’t say that church is essential in word or in action, what are we telling the world? There is something much bigger going on around the world than a pandemic. Lines are being drawn.
Early in the pandemic, in a March article for Foreign Policy, researcher Lyman Stone anticipated the church shutdowns. He pointed out that
During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered a spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.
And it happened throughout many other historic plagues: Caring for each other led to conversion. Still, Stone stresses, being “in the world” but not fearful of the world doesn’t mean we’re exempt from protecting ourselves and others. Part of that caring includes doing what we can to stay healthy —and trusting God for everything else outside our control.
There is no Biblical mandate to worship God in a building. The Body of Christ is made up of individuals. Even so, I would argue that “how” we worship is just as important as the why. Do we hide inside our houses or do we go to the house of God to show the world in Whom we trust?
Staying open is what New Creation Community chooses to do. It doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody in every situation. I think it’s important to be up front about how we made our decisions. We aren’t trying to be contrary or political or irresponsible. We are trying to accommodate all levels of faith so that we can grow together.
Join us online or in-person this Sabbath. You are welcome here!