What do we do when we can’t be together?
Where I am in the United States, we are still seeing an active infection of the coronavirus, so I am still spending the majority of my time at home. I’m tired of writing about the effects of social distancing and safer-at-home orders, but it is still my reality. Very little of me exists outside the walls of my apartment –– everything from socializing to work is now contained within my laptop screen. Even though I work for a church, my work has mostly moved online, and I have only set foot in the church building four times over the last six months.
While working from home has its challenges even in corporate settings, it feels especially jarring when church and all its programs and activities are now being conducted in living rooms and offices around the area. Not being in the physical space of our church building makes work feel like, well, work, instead of the mission to help people meet Jesus that I signed on for a few years ago.
Of course, feelings do not always communicate reality. Just because I feel that church is now work does not mean that it is any less important, or that it wasn’t work the entire time, or that it is somehow less important because it’s now online. But I have always associated church with the building, with the ornate cathedrals and the sacred presence of God. Being in church meant that reality was a little different for the time I spent in that space, even though I didn’t always understand or appreciate it. Now, that church is my tiny apartment. But nothing feels sacred about my living room.
Church is more than the building
So, what does that mean for me and the rest of the church still safely nestled inside for the foreseeable future? I have read time and again that the church now most resembles the early church found in the book of Acts: the church that met in homes, founded on relationships and works. While that early church model feels more similar to today’s environment than the pre-covid times of being in our church buildings, the coronavirus has stripped us of the essential ability to be together for worship. How can we be the church without a building when we are also devoid of physical togetherness?
As we know, the church should not only happen inside the building – Jesus empowers us to go out to the people that need Him the most. And I know many people that are taking the church to their neighborhoods for e.g: meeting in backyards, offering childcare when they can, and organizing food drives. This church embodies the hands and feet of Jesus, being compassion and care where they are needed now more than ever.
Together when we’re apart
But what about those of us who are at higher risk of catching the coronavirus? With an autoimmune disorder, I’m not convinced I’d be able to get by with a covid-19 infection and a light cough for a few weeks. Leaving my apartment feels like a risk at every turn, and while I’m slowly learning to venture out, I am still more inclined to stay inside until there is a vaccine.
In the absence of physical friends, works, and the church building, I am learning to be the church where I’m at: by myself in my living room. There will always be the balm of gathering together in a beautiful building. And there will always be a need to take the church outside to the people in need. But I am learning that to limit my sense of sacred to a church building or to works I can’t participate in right now limits my experience of God.
The church has many opportunities right now to re-examine our identity. We can be a church that is not defined by any one specific building, but defined by our belief that we take that sacred sense of God with us wherever we go. We can be a church not defined by programs, and instead defined by reaching out to those near us in compassion and care. Both together and apart, both going out and staying in, the Holy Spirit dwells inside each one of us. And if that is true, then any space can be sacred. Even our living rooms.
Rebecca constantly strives to practically love people around her. She also loves fuzzy socks, her five sisters, pink and orange alstroemerias, calligraphy, and sour gummy worms.