Most of us are probably familiar with the nursery rhyme and hand gestures that go along with it, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open it up, and see all the people!” A pastor at my previous church would use this rhyme often stating, “While catchy and playful, it is really bad theology.”
In all the different ways that COVID-19 has shifted our lives, as Christians, we certainly feel it on Sundays. While there is something nice about a slow Sunday morning, watching church from our couch, cuddled up with a favorite blanket and a carefully crafted cup of coffee (ah, I do miss church coffee though), we can sense something is lacking. And it has nothing to do with service itself. Honestly, I’ve had very little to do with the implementation of virtual service and our online experience, so this is not me bragging, but the staff and volunteers who have worked so hard to provide a meaningful and engaging virtual service have done a FANTASTIC job. So what is it then that we sense missing on Sunday mornings?
We miss getting to see one another. We miss getting to catch up and hear how each other is doing. We are reminded that we have brothers and sisters around the Milwaukee area that we long to talk to, laugh with, pray with, and dare I even say, share a hug with.
And right now, again, this has nothing to do with me so I’m not bragging, you as the people of Epikos are killing it! As I have talked to various people from our West Allis community, different small group leaders and members, time after time, conversation after conversation, I am encouraged by how you are responding to this time. There’s the innovation of what it looks like to continue in a meaningful community, the commitment to spend time and care for one another even if it is not ideal and inconvenient. I’ve heard of the ways you have come alongside those in need, both in and outside of our congregation. I can no longer count how many times a conversation has ended with someone saying to me, “If anyone needs anything, you let me know.”
Nobody needed to tell you, nobody asked you to, you all have just responded as Jesus would, in love. As we look at you West Allis, Pastor Paul and I are simply so proud of you. It brings us great joy to see you living out the faith in the beautifully mundane and wonderfully profound day-to-day moments of this pandemic. We are so proud of you.
At the beginning of Acts 8, Saul, also known as Paul (random Bible fact: Paul’s name was not changed at his conversion. “Saul” was his Hebrew name and “Paul” was his Greek name) brings about a great persecution to the early church in Jerusalem. Now, at the time, the church had pretty much been located in Jerusalem and had not expanded much further. And as this persecution comes, verse 1 tells us that the church in Jerusalem was then “all scattered throughout the region.” They too did not find themselves gathering the way they would have liked. We too are scattered. Yet, read a little bit further to verse 4. “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” The gospel message, the truth of who Jesus is and salvation which is found in Him, the church expanded in the midst of a season of scattering.
My challenge to you, in following all safety procedures and government mandates, is to consider how you are using this time within this less busy season to get to know your neighbors. Right now it might be nothing more than initiating a virtual game night. Perhaps in the weeks to come it will be a socially distant driveway beverage or a 6 feet apart bonfire.
“Here is the church, here is the steeple, here are the doors, open up and here are all the people.” Great rhyme, bad theology. The church isn’t the building, heck, it’s not even really the service, it’s the people: the people of God who have confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior, who have found life, the forgiveness of sin, and salvation in Him. The people who are integrated into this new life by the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, Who binds us all together into a family of faith. And lastly, the people who live out the Kingdom values of their King, which is always framed by the ethic of love.
I am delighted to be one of your pastors in this season. I take great pride when I look at you and say, “Here is the church.” The church is people, and the church is for people. That’s why we spread the good news of Jesus. Even in normal times, this is the natural rhythm of the church. We gather, to encourage one another, worship together, and enjoy one another, and we scatter, to build relationships with others, exemplify the love of Christ, and tell them about Him.
Hang in there, stay connected with one another, continue in faith and love, and let’s patiently wait and pray for that day when we all get to gather in person and see each other again!
Grace and peace.