It is a surreal experience getting a coffee at an empty Starbucks or grabbing a Chick-Fil-A sandwich with absolutely no one in the store.
But that is life in the midst of a pandemic.
As a pastor, it means preaching to rows of empty pews, trying to imagine the people at home watching on their tablet or laptop. There is not the synergy of seeing people respond to what is said. There is no way to know how the message is being heard.
Or even if it is being heard…I know some folks are sitting there in their pajamas, drinking coffee, and reading the paper while “attending church”—no aspersions—I would probably do the same.
But there is a strange power in preaching to an empty room. I suddenly realize again how important people are. We need each other. We gain so much from simple interaction. We realize how communal human beings actually are. I miss the gaggle of conversation as church begins—folks checking in on each other, the settling of children for a time of quiet, the shared joke or commiseration, and all the ways we reconnect every time we are absent from each other. I miss seeing folks who remind me of all the things going on in the very real lives of the people in the pews—the births, the deaths, the beginnings, and the endings. I miss the simple joy of togetherness.
And as I remember and note the power of being together, I also realize all the ways we can still be a church despite limitations on our actually being together.
When no one can get out much, we can remember those who never get out. Call a shut-in. Send a card. Check in with an email. Maybe do a video chat. We can remember to check in on those most vulnerable, making sure they have groceries or medicines. We can run to the store and make a back porch drop off. We can make sure no one becomes isolated. We can still connect.
Remember the folks whose work is curtailed. Now might be a great time to offer free childcare to someone who really needs to work, but can’t because the schools are closed. Don’t be stupid or careless, but we can still use drive-thrus in safety—keep someone employed. Order carry out from your favorite restaurant. The chef will appreciate it. Think of ways to support folks in healthcare work. They are running ragged. What might they need?
Remember those who live in the margins. Urban Ministry still needs food and support for their homeless clients even as Room at the Inn shuts down for the year a couple of weeks early. A church member wondered about taking bag lunches downtown or to a street corner where someone stands with their sign. Go for it. “As you do it for the least of these…” Jesus said.
In so many ways, this pandemic might be an awakening to our deep interconnectedness. We need each other. We depend on each other. We can be with one another in so many interesting and creative ways.
Remember what the Apostle John wrote to his churches facing uncertain and frightening times—
No one has ever seen God, but when we love one another, God lives in us and
God’s love is perfected in us.