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Johne

Religion in the time of pandemic - a lament

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Update: This post is for lamenting, not debating.  At Lynn's gentle suggestion, I'm opening the topic for comment. If it looks like the comments are skewing off into the tiresome mask / no-mask tangent, I'll close it again. Thanks.

A year ago we had a guest speaker up from a Community Church from Chicagoland a couple of hours South from where I live in S. Wisconsin, and the place was packed (which for us was, like, 85 people). Church looks different this year - we're online with a vengeance but still trying to figure how to have church in person for those who want to attend while adhering to state safety guidelines so as not to spread the virus at church.

 

This year's attendance was 13 people in person, and a number of people online greater than just our own in-person people because of YouTube and FaceBook Live. It feels like a lose / lose situation - how do we navigate these tricky waters while continuing to worship, to meet together (virtually and otherwise), to study together, to bear one another's burdens, to continue to love God, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to disciple people to Jesus Christ? On the one hand, we've gone from no streaming to a vigorous streaming presence (but the team responsible for much of this effort are going back to college in a month). On the other, our in-person attendance has fallen off a cliff due to pandemic considerations.

 

One thing seems clear - the days are dark and filled with fear and violence and we need the ability to worship now more than ever, but this virus is almost insidious in the way its characteristics divides congregations. If we disregard safety guidelines and sing and hug, we run the risk of infecting congregants, which harms people instead of helping them, and the church looks cavalier and tone-deaf. If we are too vigorous enforcing these guidelines we run the risk of losing our people to other groups which are meeting or seeing our people stuck at home without the ability to interact, especially for those who aren't tech-savvy or don't have the ability to interact online.
 

We've always said the church isn't the building, but gathering together is a big part of worshiping together, and this virus is testing our unity. How can we best care for each other while remaining separate?
 

We have a small but vocal group of about four families (like, a quarter of our church, including a prominent deacon) who think the 'Rona is no big deal and want us to resume 'normal church' with windows closed, no masks, singing, and hugs and handshakes all around. They're making noises about going elsewhere if their preferences aren't serviced. We have another group of a similar size who wouldn't get back together in person out of an abundance of caution even if we wrapped ourselves in hazmat suits.

 

There's a rebound of the virus in Wisconsin, the governor in Madison has made masked mandatory inside businesses and churches in Dane County, and the rest of the state is beginning to follow suit. Walmart and other local merchants say they're going to be more stringent about requiring mask use, which is causing stronger push-back from those who think their constitutional rights are being trampled or just don't like to be told what to do. I'm just so tired of it all, but this is the /easy/ season. Just wait until winter gets here and we can't open doors and windows and we're stuck with recirculating air everywhere.
 

I'm frustrated. Linda and I have been very careful, but she works at Walmart, where people without masks regularly invade her personal space with wanton disregard for her safety. The church is teetering on the edge of a split because of this insidious virus and because people think things should be 'back to normal.' I feel they're in denial. There is no 'back to normal.' This is the new normal, at least for now, and we have to adapt, and we're failing.
 

I wish I knew what to do. I know my own extended family is meeting in person with impunity without masks, and I'm already dreading the decision I'm going to have to make come Thanksgiving. Linda is a hardcore Introvert and not meeting with family is a reward for her, not a punishment. It's different for me. I'm already the family's black sheep, and fear being separated out of an abundance of caution makes me look like I'm drifting away from them when it's really the other way around. In this, I'm the cautious one, I'm trying to demonstrate love for my neighbor by adhering to state safety guidelines, and they think I'm falling prey to some Leftist plot.
 

I don't have any wisdom here. I feel I've been trying to do the cautious thing, the right thing to demonstrate love, and am being punished by those who can't or won't extend grace during a global pandemic. Our church has survived many other threats, but this one feels like it has the potential to just overwhelm us, and I don't know what to do. We're still praying, we're still giving, we're still meeting online, but the sheep are restless and the enemy is circling.

I guess I'm asking for prayer, for wisdom, for love, for grace, for the name of Jesus Christ to be glorified and for His Body to be renewed and restored.

 

 

 

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Oh, Johne! I feel your lament! This virus is ripping apart things that weren't meant to be ripped apart. It's so difficult to ride the fence of safety without falling into one side or the other and be separated from the other side. I'm so sorry this virus is dividing your church's congregants. I know it isn't what God desires. Praying for you, your wife, and your church.

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I think one thing we can all agree upon is wanting this to pass and for things to be back to safe and normal. Lately it feels like we're all living in a never-ending episode of the Twilight Zone. It's stressful for everyone.

 

Praying for peace, safety, and unity. 🙂 It may sound cliche, but God is in control. There's peace and comfort in that.

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Posted (edited)

I have great empathy for you, your church and the many churches around the country.

 

Our church has chose to have church service in spite of our state's banning of church services and in-home bible studies. We all wear masks, social distance etc. follow all of the CDC guidelines. We steam of course, and also have a Zoom meeting once a week. That has helped people stay connected.

 

We have noticed a definite drop in church attendance.  Our church usual attendance is around 100. We had 10 people attend two weeks ago, and 25 this Sunday.

 

After church those that feel comfortable without masks, etc. , go into the fellowship hall and we have a good old time fellowshipping together. 

Edited by Bob Leone
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     "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

    "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.   Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

(Ephesians 6:10-20)

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Johne, for those who are not tech savvy, (and seven out of our ten members are not), use the telephone system. Skype will let you call a group of people, as will Messenger. We use Skype for the telephone and Messenger for those who can figure that out. Our attendance has been consistent, with only one or two Sundays when we don't have all ten. Plus we picked up some family members!

 

On the other hand, I'm not hearing any "We have to go back to the building!" so we're fortunate that way.

 

Praying for you and yours and your church and all the other churches in the same situation.

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I think prayer and God's word is important to all of us right now during this time!  I love how we can remind ourselves of that!

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Johne: Our church congregation is made up of mostly senior citizens. Several of them have not returned to church yet. One fairly young man is not able to return because "his health 'people'" have said he can't. Our pastor makes a daily phone message for all the congregation, using a One-Call system. When he was assigned here last year, he asked that his sermons be recored for You Tube. Our prayer group met for a while via conference call over our cell phones. We are still observing protocols set down by our bishop and our governor.(crowd size, use of the building, no singing for a while.(That changed July 14th, no greeting each other with a hug or a handshake.)  He had drive-through communion three times. I got to receive it that way the last time. (Everyone was excited to see each other, as we waved from our cars. Our prayer group meets in the gazebo in our prayer walk.

 

As hard as it is with your family. (Been there) We each have to stand by our beliefs and stand for God. 

 

I will be praying for you and your wife and your church.

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I'm seeing a connection to 1 Corinthians 8 and 9.

 

I presume you all have Bibles, so I won't fill up this thread with posting what Paul wrote.

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