Church in a Time of COVID-19

These last few weeks have challenged pastors and churches around the country to radically re-think ministry. We find ourselves urgently addressing questions most of us had not been asking up until this point. These include:

            -How do we worship God when meeting together in our sanctuary risks the spread of a deadly virus?

            -What does it mean to gather, as Jesus called his disciples to do (Matthew 18:20), when safety and a state order direct us to stay at home?

            -How do we love our neighbor when our physical proximity to them places all of us at greater risk?

            How do we respond with love to a community and larger world gripped by a pandemic?  

I have thought often this past month about Tod Bolinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. In that book, Tod reminds us of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the fast-adaptive work they had to do.  Hoping to find the Northwest Passage, the expedition traveled up the Missouri River in 1904 looking for a waterway west to the Pacific Ocean.  They found instead the Rocky Mountains.  The situation called for some quick adaptive efforts to continue their journey west — radical adjustments Tod compares to “canoeing the mountains.”

These past few weeks, it has felt to me like canoeing the mountains every day. I had long assumed caring for people meant providing a physical human presence. Today, compassionate ministry means keeping six feet or more of “social distance.”  Worship, I thought, meant coming together in a single physical space to glorify God. Today, I am planning worship services where all participates engage remotely. Christian community, I had long believed, meant having discussions, meals, or doing Bible study in a common space. Now, every meeting or gathering I am a part of takes place through videoconferencing or telecommunications. This is a new day.

What does church look like in COVID-19 days?  How do we live out our congregation’s mission to “invite thoughtful seekers to intergenerational community and Christian discipleship in the world” in 2020?  While we are still prayerfully discerning that together, a few paths forward have already emerged.  These include:

Diving into online ministry.  If loving our neighbor means maintaining physical distance, then we will utilize whatever digital tools we can to connect with and care for people. If we are not able to congregate in a sanctuary, we will do online worship as well as we can.

If we cannot gather in a common physical space in smaller groups, we will link up through videoconferencing.  These past two weeks, we have thrown ourselves into planning everything for online formats.

-Reaching out to congregation members to discern and respond to needs.  The staff and deacons are contacting all of the Knox households to check in with people and see how we can best support our congregants. From bringing food and toiletries to people’s homes, to combating social isolation with a friendly voice, we are feeling the need in COVID-19 days to be pro-active in reaching out to one another.

-Finding new ways to love our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable.

Supporting the work of longstanding mission partners feels especially crucial today, as COVID-19 makes the plight of the homeless, the hungry, the orphan, and the immigrant all the more precarious.  Our immigration ministry team, housing justice team, mission committee, and the greater Presbytery of San Gabriel are all looking at new ways to support our neighbors with acute needs in these “stay at home” times.

For 2000 years, the church of Jesus Christ has carried out vibrant ministry through days of war and revolution, plague and famine.  And in such times, believers have found innovative ways to practice faithfulness to their savior and the gospel he proclaimed.  May we be the body of Christ in this new day and answer our savior’s call together.

Wishing you grace and peace,

Pastor Matt





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