Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"1 (Lyrics)

Exodus 16:3 – The Israelites said to [Moses and Aaron], "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (NIV)

Proverbs 29:18a – Where there is no vision, the people perish. (KJV)

One of the effects of the pandemic that we regret the most is that many church sanctuaries have been closed. It is important to lament the loss of what has been. It is important to lament the loss of people who have died as a result of COVID-19; the loss of economic security for many; the incredible toll taken on healthcare providers and persons who provide other essential services. It is important to grieve — and grief is experienced as longing, sadness, and anger.

However, it is also important to realize that the doors of a church building being closed does not mean that the church is closed. Church is always open, in the sense that wherever we are in the world, we take the church with us. We can learn from this pandemic experience that while gathering in a place of worship is important, there are many other ways of being church outside the walls of a church building — many other ways of worshipping together and of serving the community.

Several decades ago, an inner-city church realized that some of its older members were having great difficulty making their way to the church building for worship on Sundays. So, they figured out a way of connecting the sound system in the sanctuary to the telephone system, and did some other technical things to make it possible for the Sunday worship to be broadcast to people who wanted to participate in worship via their telephones. The church provided special speakers in those folks' homes so that they did not have to hold a receiver up to their ear for an hour. This was long before there were telephones with a speaker phone function. The telephone worshippers were often mentioned (sometimes by name) in the worship services.

During this pandemic, many congregations have learned how to broadcast their worship services, both audio and video, via one of the Internet platforms, and have discovered that there are ways to do so which build up the community of faith and care just as effectively as through the use of their church buildings. The congregation to which I belong has welcomed persons attending worship who have not been able to attend worship in person for several years — and has had visitors from far away as well. Two of those "visiting" families, one from 250 km distance and the other from 3000 km away, have become regular participants in our congregation's life and work. Of course, some of our local members do not have Internet access or have been unable (or unwilling) to join us online. We have provided them with the text of the service — by postal mail if they do not have email. One of those folks shared with me that, when they receive the service material, they read the readings and message, pray the prayers, and sing the songs.

Many things have been learned as a result of the pandemic experience. I hope that that learning will continue to inform congregations about how they can grow in the capacity to use tools that are readily available to be the church in whatever way that is possible. If our hearts and minds are open, we can experience a wider vision of how God wants us to be in the world as a result of what we have learned from being the church during the pandemic.

Prayer: Loving God, we struggle to make sense out of what we are going through as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Help us to shake off our tendency to want things to be the way that they used to be, and instead, to listen, to watch for, and to embrace the vision that You have for us as individuals and for the communities of faith and care in which we participate. Amen.

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About the author:

John Carr <crosbiecarr@yahoo.com>
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    Thanks for the good word, John.


    Good message John. Thank you. Hope you and Marilyn are keeping well.


    Thanks, John. What a creative congregation that was and far ahead of their time. A good example for us.


    So true, we are able to go to church here, but we now also tune into several online churches as well. Some churches have become so creative reaching others. Thanks, and God bless!


    Dear John,
    It is joyous to hear all the different ways people who aren’t able to go attend church physically can still be fed God’s word. Your writing is appreciated.


    Dear John,
    Thank you for your very positive devotional and reminding us what it means to be a church in whatever circumstances we are in. May you have a blessed day.


    Good morning, John,
    Thank you so much for such a relevant devotion. You have reminded us so well that “We are the church” and that we need to seek the Lord’s guidance and strength to reach out to others.


    Your encouragement matters, John. Grateful to receive it from you today. Woody Guthrie described the experience you discuss here in one of the important but usually omitted verses of, ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ “By the Welfare Office, In The Shadow Of The Steeple, As I was standing, I saw my people. As they stood there, hungry, I stood there, asking, ‘Is this land, made for you and me…? ” Thanks for the reminder.


    It’s a transition. We go through it time and again, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. Life never stands still. You have hit the nail on the head for what is now, and we (I) need to move on to create a new reality that will be as satisfying as the old one. How often the church has lingered in the past and been unable to engage what is! A lady once told me that coming into the church was like going through a time warp. Thank you for crystallizing our moment.


    Thank you for your devotion today.
    The church is not a building but the people. Hopefully, this pandemic will help people understand this. I have been grateful for such media as zoom to participate in the services at my church in Fl, run the coffee hour following the service and go to presbytery meetings. No one needs a building to worship God and to carry out his work.
    Blessings.
    (NL)


    Thank you for calling attention to this wonderful use of the internet to bring worship into the homes of those who are unable to physically attend. As a Senior citizen and cancer survivor, I am one of them. The nearby church I’ve been attending has recommended that vulnerable people worship online instead of risking contagion. This church grew because programs targeted younger families and especially their children. Now the church council (Session to Presbyterians) will reopen the Sanctuary this upcoming Sunday… still no Sunday School or programs for children. I wonder if the church will return to full health when children are still being excluded. Evidence reported on TV news programs states that the primary demographic spreading Covid19 is the twenty to thirty something age group, not children… so elementary schools are opening. Thanks again for writing this devotional. Blessings.


    Good morning John,
    Thank you for this very meaningful devotional you have written. Yes, we sure are in a different mode of gathering for worship but thankfully due to the technology available these days we have ways of still receiving God’s word. There are some that do not have the convenience of receiving the service online but that is where we certainly can reach out to them and see that they can be connected in other ways at a “distance”. It is great to see too, that some who weren’t attending church or even interested in coming to know Jesus are now following online services and sending donations for causes supported by the church. There can be some positive outcomes of this pandemic situation we are presently in, as we remain strong in our faith and share the Lord’s love.
    Blessings to you for writing.
    (B.C.)


    Mr. Carr,
    Thank you for the timely message. I was struggling to compose a sermon on using the pandemic effects to introduce change to our church and was on the point of abandoning the idea when your devotional appeared in my in-box!
    Blessings.


    Hi John,
    Thank you for your devotional pointing out how important and helpful the internet has been for keeping us connected.
    We have some at our church who don’t connect by zoom but we’ve had others phone them to share the service or meetings with them.


    John,
    I know of other churches who are welcoming newcomers and being supported by them.
    The Lord is opening new doors in this situation. It is very exciting.
    As for me I am experiencing Communion in a new way.
    In front of a screen, parking of the juice and bread I have with me, is surprisingly intimate in a way hard to describe.


    Very nicely said.

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