Our new reality has taken over with blinding speed. Life has gone from normal to “wash your hands” to “shelter in place” in what now seems like an instant. Businesses have closed, events have been canceled and millions have lost their jobs. Families can’t visit relatives in nursing homes or hospitals, and grandparents can’t visit grandchildren. Teenagers have been barred from gathering with friends, and college students are unexpectedly living at home again.

Churches have been shuttered as well. Sometimes with just hours to respond, congregational leaders have scrambled to maintain some sense of normalcy by creating online worship, Bible studies, confirmation lessons, council meetings and even coffee hours. Still, it has been jarring, heartbreaking even, to see videos of empty worship spaces with just a pastor and a handful of musicians trying to counteract our growing sense of isolation. Pastors have preached about change, grief, fear and hope. Worshipers have mailed in contributions or registered for online giving because, even though a church’s doors may be locked, congregational ministries have continued, expanded even, and become critical.

The church is open—both when we gather and when we scatter.

Our buildings may have been shuttered to combat an invisible enemy, but we must live into the reality that the church is not closed. Our church is not a building, an organization or a worship service. According to the New Testament Greek, the church is the ekklésia, the called-out people of God. We have been called by God for a special purpose: to love and serve the world. The church is open—both when we gather and when we scatter. Even when scattered, we are still church, some of us sheltering in place and others working in essential roles. These are the vocations we have been training for throughout our years of gathering in person.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a kairos moment to reconnect with and fulfill our God-given vocations for our neighbors, whoever they may be. In this crisis, our vocations among our family, friends and community are even more important.

God in Christ continues to work in and through us to provide the necessities of daily life for our neighbor. Examples can be found all around us:

  • Quilters are raiding their fabric stashes to make face masks, and Boy Scouts are using 3-D printers to generate face shields.

  • An Episcopal priest convinced the owner of a shuttered diner to let him use the kitchen to cook meals for nearby hospital workers. He rehired the cooks and dishwashers that had been laid off, providing them with a way to make a living.

  • Every night at 7 p.m., people in New York City open their windows and stand on their stoops to cheer and clap, and drivers honk horns and run sirens, all to support the hundreds of thousands of people who save lives and keep the city running: health care providers, emergency medical workers, grocery workers and delivery drivers. 

  • Several nights a week, one of my Facebook friends feeds an anesthesiologist who lives nearby to thank him for his service.

  • ‪An anonymous donor gave every resident of an Iowa town $150 in gift cards to local businesses to provide for those in need and support the local economy.

Gathering virtually will continue to be important—we need that connection, comfort and hope. But this kairos moment calls us to find creative and bold ways to live into the reality that, even when the building’s doors are locked, the church is still open.

Take action

Pray for essential workers by name and role, and use social media or video clips during online worship to tell stories of how we are serving our neighbors. Create online support groups for medical and other essential workers and their families. Use time formerly occupied with meetings to telephone members, inquiring about and affirming their scattered ministries.

The ELCA’s Life of Faith initiative provides resources and networking to aid congregations in realizing their vocations. Watch our introductory video at http://lifeoffaith.info, then check out the resources on the site.

Dwight DuBois
Dwight L. DuBois is an ELCA pastor, a leader of the Life of Faith initiative and author of The Scattering: Imagining a Church That Connects Faith and Life (Wipf & Stock, 2015).

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