Because of rapidly rising COVID numbers in our community, our congregation made the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship services again. Here are some remarks that I shared with our congregation in light of this decision.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Is 2020 really over? It seems like the year that refuses to end, doesn’t it? I write these words in the midst of our congregation’s temporary suspension of all in-person worship services (again!), along with all other in-person gatherings at the church. My family and I have been so grateful to be able to at least worship here in person since September, and so disappointed to have to give up that for a few weeks. We understand and agree with the need to do so, but it is disappointing, without a doubt. Even when we couldn’t gather for all of our other activities, at least we could gather for Sunday morning worship. 

This won’t surprise you, but this experience reminds me of some powerful words written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer back in the 1930s, from a book on Christian community called Life Together. Here they are:

It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace. They pray with the psalmist: “I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” (Ps. 42:4). But they remain alone in distant lands, a scattered seed according to God’s will. Yet what is denied them as a visible experience they grasp more ardently in faith.

Not all Christians are able to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. That has always been true. I have visited with many Christians, in nursing homes, living rooms, and hospitals, who have lamented that they are not able to worship in person. They “grasp more ardently in faith” what their experience denies them. 

In God’s grace we will return to in-person worship soon. We will gather once again, “visibly around God’s word and sacrament.” And in God’s grace we will return to all of our other cherished and missed activities soon, too. In the meantime, we can lament, and pray, and long for a return to these things. And we can do this knowing that our desire to worship God and to be with God’s people is itself pleasing to God. And we can do this knowing that our call to follow Jesus and to help usher in his reign of love does not depend on our spending our Sunday mornings at 230 South Second Street. Wherever we are, we are the church. But whenever we can, let us return to South Second Street, with glad and thankful hearts, to worship our loving God with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Christ,

Pastor James

11 thoughts on “As We Suspend In-Person Worship (Again)

  1. Dear James, I am so sorry and I am right there with you. We were out of our sanctuaries for four months from mid-February to June 21st and then could gather, but not sing. Folks were understanding, but second hardest thing for active congregations to not gathering in person, is probably gathering but not singing. We were able to gather in person until December, but at our Bishop’s strong request are in a pause of in-person worship “until further notice.” Some have already returned, but I am pretty much a keeper of rules. In the meantime, during late Advent COVID hit our house. I was fortunate that I had a mild case and I was grateful that we had already started doing drive in church, using a radio transmitter connected to our sound system. As things would have it, I had preached at the Drive-In Service on the 20th of December and my symptoms started on the 21st. One of the few people who was also in t he sanctuary that morning also got COVID. Whether she got it from me or some other way, I do not know. But I was grateful at that point that the sanctuary was empty. Please forgive this long post, but there is more. My husband got COVID and it hit him hard. Without going into too much detail, I am pretty sure I almost lost him. He is 72 with several major health issues and COVID managed to hit many of the major ones. When the ambulance took him to the hospital for the second time, I was not sure he would make it. He is home, recovering slowly, but in our small county there have been 22 deaths in the last two weeks, including the time of his ravaging symptoms. No one likes not being in worship, but I am grateful, knowing we are in a situation of rapid spread. Prayers and blessings for you and your congregation. Feel free to share my story with anyone you think it might help. Pauses of in-person worship can seem unfair and academic, until COVID happens to someone you love. You and your congregation are bending over backwards to love your neighbor as you love yourselves. In Christ, Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Michele! I am so sorry to hear of your ordeal! What a scary time for you, your husband, and all your congregation! Thank you for sharing this with me. It certainly is a powerful reminder of why we made this decision. My prayers will be with you, and especially for your husband’s full recovery. Blessings in Christ, James

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pastor, while we are still able to hold in-person Mass, the Catholic obligation to attend has been in place since March. Most churches offer online Mass and we are, as Catholics, able to pray a “Spiritual Communion” when unable to attend or receive the Eucharist. Unfortunately, attendance was down even before the pandemic and I fear that the affects of online services and the interrupted obligations will drive more and more people away from church attendance.
    I will pray for your congregation that they do accept this interruption in the spirit of love of neighbor and continue to worship as we are called to do to the One Who Is worthy. Please do the same for mine.

    Liked by 1 person

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