How the Pandemic Made Us a Better Church

When we were attacked on September 11th, we responded with courage and compassion. For a short time, we cared about people we had never thought about before. It didn’t matter what your race or ethnicity or gender was, because we were attacked by evil, and we responded with valor. For a short time, we were united. I got a call from another pastor who asked me if I would join him at the local Mosque, so we collared up and took a few hours a day hanging out at the front door, just in case some lunatic showed up to get revenge. I still remember my sermon that following Sunday – I told my congregation that the people who did this weren’t real Muslims – they were evil. Our neighbors were the real Muslims, standing with us against the whirlwind of hate. In some parts of the country, real Muslims suffered; in our country, we stood together. It made us better, for a while.

The pandemic has made us a better church in some ways too. It hit us like a tidal wave, and within days we went from what we never will be again to something amorphous. We all scrambled, trying to figure out how to do our thing in completely different ways. Those ways had been available to us, but most of our congregations had ignored them. Now, we ignored them at our own peril, and many congregations already teetering on the edge of the abyss tipped over into it, and their doors never opened again. Many of us, though, found ways to serve people in need, and we jumped through hoops and tried to do the right thing while the facts changed every day. We opened our windows in the middle of winter and put sanitizer at every door. We wore masks and kept our distance. We collected food and money and gave it to people who couldn’t get PPP money. Some people got rich on that program; many of them politicians and megachurches. Our congregation was doing okay, so we didn’t take the free money; we decided to let people who needed it get our share.

Our congregation streamlined our mission and our worship. We stopped hoarding the ghosts of the past that seemed to take up too much time and energy and space, keeping us from meeting deeper needs. We found out who the kind people were and who the mean people were, and while we mourned this realization, we were also grateful. I kept repeating the words of Jesus: Where your heart is, there is your true treasure. Some of us have asthma; we wore the mask. Some of our members begged us to have in-person worship; we stayed online to protect each other. People lost their jobs; we gave them what we could so they could eat that week. The pandemic was terrible, but it taught us something we had lost; the realization that how and what we prioritize matter. Housing, feeding, praying, checking in; so much more important than which sung response you use after the confession or whether there are enough ushers signed up to take the offering. 

We continue to find our way in this still uncertain world. We hope and pray that life will get a little more normal, but we prepare for the chaos. We watch and weep as the earth takes revenge on our destruction of the environment, trying not to say “I told you so”. We try to be prepared. Like Jesus told His disciples: Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. Be ready to respond with courage and compassion, and try not to be afraid. God is for us; who can be against us? We have no choice but to do the right thing.

Prayer – Holy God, as we remember 9/11, remind us of our responsibility for each other, no matter how we see You. We are all Your children. Amen.

Today’s art is “Still There” by Stushie.