BACK TO CHURCH
By Brad Dupray, Sr. VP, Ministry Development, Church Development Fund
I went to church today. Those words are like music to my ears. When I went to church on March 8th, 2020 I had no idea it would be five months before I would be at a live Sunday morning church service again!
In my ministry at CDF I have spent thousands of hours talking to pastors. Since the middle of March the conversations have centered on “How is your church doing during the pandemic?” “Here’s how CDF can be of help to you through this.” “How are you adjusting to having church online?” “Are your offerings coming in OK?” “What’s up with your children’s and student ministries?” “What do you see as the ‘new normal?’”
This past week when I was asking those questions of my friend, Pastor Mike Openshaw at Lighthouse Christian Church in Oceanside, California, he surprised me by saying that the church had been meeting together since May 31 – that’s 10 Sundays! I told Mike that it would be so refreshing to go to church again and he said, “Come on down.” So I did!
So you might be thinking, “Are these guys breaking the rules? Defying the governing authorities? I thought churches couldn’t meet in California.” Well they can if they meet outside and obey proper social distancing regulations. That’s what Lighthouse does. Take a look back at the name of the city where they’re located. Oceanside. My expertise in etymology tells me that means, “beside the ocean.” Get it? We’re talking 73 degrees at 10:30am on Sunday with a slight breeze blowing. The only thing I had to worry about was too much sun on my bald head. But the church provided shade on the patio and plenty of “pop-ups” to ward off skin cancer (if it’s not one disease it’s another!).
Chances are your church doesn’t have Oceanside weather, but you have evenings. Fall is coming. Catholics have mass at 7am, why not you? Think about it, is there a time when your church might be able to meet live? In person? Out of doors?
Lighthouse does a great job of obeying the mandates of the governing authorities. As you walk toward their outdoor location there are signs letting you know that you need to put on a mask. Keep that social distancing of six feet. Chairs are spread out for family groups and individuals. Communion is offered in single-serving, disposable packets. Handshakes and hugs are replaced by elbow bumps.
And with all of that, it was absolutely awesome, I mean God-inspired awesome, to be back among the saints, singing in worship, listening to live preaching, taking communion together… just going to church. Children are invited to the stage area during the service for a special few moments of teaching for them (and the adults are mesmerized!).
It’s often said that we take our freedoms for granted in America, and for the past five months I have discovered that is true. While we long for that day when we can meet again, in church buildings, without masks, or whatever that new normal dictates, we’re not exactly the underground church. We have brothers and sisters around the world today who risk their very lives for the purpose of gathering to worship the risen Christ. I guess I should count my blessings that I’ve got a big screen TV that pipes a church service into my family room every weekend while I wait out the storm.
In my 40+ years of ministry I thought I had seen it all. But now I feel like I’m just seeing the beginning. And while our re-gatherings may not be as comfortable as we would like them to be, there is one thing we have re-discovered… the church is not the building. And it feels good when the people of God come together.