March 23, 2020
Since the first time I wrote a blog for this site, there have been changes at Springwood: a new Pastor, the Reverend Marybeth Asher-Lawson; some new members, some new friends, some new signage and freshening up around the facility; and a big new Vision for the mission of our "little" church.
Vision 2020 deserves a blog or two all its own, and is not my topic now. My topic, in fact goes back to that OTHER blog I wrote nearly three years ago.
At the time, my point was about connecting with others, and I said that "Connection is the real, true value of what we do within our church. Our gathering,our sense of being together, our sense of being in some ONE gives us a peaceful and reasonable forum in which to agree or to disagree, a place to support each other in troubles, and a venue in which to celebrate accomplishments, reinforcing our connections with each other, but most importantly, building a closer connection to God." I named our corporate worship as a spiritual discipline that strengthens our faith and helps us strengthen our bonds with others who share that faith.
It seems that now in 2020, under the pressure of a growing global pandemic, and in ties of an increasing variety of troubles in our world, we are being asked to at least temporarily give up the "publicly gathered" piece of our connections. While most Americans recognize and even cherish the First Amendment's guarantee of our right to peacefully assemble, nonetheless even churches have been included in the general directives from the Centers for Disease Control to limit our assemblies to small numbers, sometimes even no more than ten. Our Governor in North Carolina recently responded to a question, saying that if a group decided to defy his executive order, it would be a matter for local law enforcement.
Then this past week in Louisiana, a church did just that, and received their warning that continued gatherings (in their case, about 300 people) would trigger action by the national guard.
The Pastor of that church said he would do it again, citing another fondly held Amendment, that of Freedom of Religion. So, while a few churches defy the directives on religious grounds, many are justifying their compliance on similar arguments, saying they do so our of Christian love and concern for the health of their congregations as well as for that of the greater community.
We are in a time of conflicting, confounding priorities, performing a balancing act between "social justice" and "social compassion." It is not easy to determine the best course of action when every course we consider seems to have possibilities of serious, even deadly, consequences; and we must examine the additional economic pressures that are weighing on. us all. It isn't just a matter of adapting to change in our daily lives. For many it affects the ability to feed and shelter their families, and these threats exist whether or not we support all the recommendations of the experts.
All of that said, everyone's world is changing as schools, cinemas, theaters, sports venues, and many retail establishments close down or partially close down. The Session of Springwood is one that has chosen to agree on the need to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe by the expedient of canceling worship int he sanctuary, at least through the end of March (K-12 public schools in North Carolina are now closed down through May 15).
So let me remind you of what I said two and a half years ago (omitting just two words): "Connection is the real, true value of what we do within our church. Our gathering,our sense of being together, our sense of being in some ONE gives us a peaceful and reasonable forum in which to agree or to disagree, a place to support each other in troubles, and a venue in which to celebrate accomplishments, reinforcing our connections with each other, but most importantly, building a closer connection to God."
I believe that we can accomplish all of these things even in our present challenging situation. Sunday, March 22, I worshiped online while Pastor Marybeth; her husband the Reverend Scott Lawson, who preached an inspiring sermon; Russ and Mary McNeal; and our angel-voiced pianist, Sarah Jones conducted a beautiful Lenten worship service. And a lot of other people were attending the same way I was; I could feel them, I could hear their voices singing "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and Balm in Gilead" in my mind, and the prayers reached us all. We were connected. The church is people, not a building.
Now it is necessary that we reach out to maintain more than just that "virtual" connection we felt on Sunday morning. We must reach out to each other to remind everyone that we indeed remain a congregation. Springwood is looking for ways to stay in touch by phone and by mail and other ways, especially for those who do not regularly use the internet. So phone calling may become one of our most important tools.
We should each make an effort to make at least one call a day (preferably more!) to someone from Springwood, to share a moment of concern, a bit of news, and perhaps a word of prayer or to offer a bit of help with some task. Pastor Marybeth has volunteered to do grocery shopping--maybe you, too, can do that for someone--or some other little necessary errand or helpful deed. It's on each of us to find a way to reach out and be helpful.
St. Paul said to the Romans, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow--not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below--indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" [New Living Translation]. Add "neither quarantines nor social distancing" to the list.
Now call, shop, run errands, call and pray, every day. Pray for our leaders to make wise decisions; pray for our scientists to be successful in discovering appropriate responses and treatments; pray for the availability of necessary resources. Pray that none of our members feels isolated from their church family during this time. Pray for those who are going to suffer financially from lay-offs and closings. Pray that with God's help, we stay connected and find a way through, together.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God; and if the love of God is on all of us, then we are likewise inseparable. We are connected, and will remain so. But a little reaching out is in order, so that none of us forgets.
So, keep thinking (and praying)! It's good for you--good for us all.