Do you remember where you were when President John F. Kennedy was shot? Do you
remember where you were when the Berlin Wall was torn down? Do you remember where
you were on September 11, 2001?
As our world, our country, our state, our communities, and our congregations deal with the
coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, I find myself wondering how future generations will ask me
the same question about 2020.
I wonder, however, if the question will be stated something like this: “Where were you
when the Church faced its biggest crisis since the Protestant Reformation?” I admit that I tend
to be a “worst case scenario” type of person. My wife says that it’s my protection against
getting so deeply hurt when my dreams and hopes are deferred. And she’s right.
The Church in which I grew up, where I was nurtured in faith and love and was trained to serve and love, and where I find deep joy serving in today, is at a crossroads, the likes of which we’ve never seen in
our lifetimes. Many of our CBF/GA partner congregations have adjusted and responded as best they can to these times of physical distancing and isolation by providing all manner
technological engagements. The creativity among our partner ministers, across age groups, has
been inspiring and, yes, fun to watch.
But, speaking on behalf of many of them, we’re also exhausted. These past two to three weeks
have aged us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many of us, ministers and congregants,
have spent more time on ZOOM calls and Facebook Live than we could have ever imagined.
And the exhaustion isn’t limited to ministers. Church members are tired, too. We’re tired
of holding back from the handshakes and hugs that fuel our souls. We’re beat from
watching the financial markets and our retirement funds look like roller coasters. We’re worn
out from the deluge of news and social media that continually beg for our attention. We’re
exasperated by the fear that hangs so heavily over our heads and hearts as communities are
closed, schools are shuttered, and churches sit dark. We’re irritated by continual news
conferences that tell us the worst is yet to come. We’re drained by reports of those whom we
know and even whom we love who have been exposed to coronavirus/COVID-19 and are facing
unspeakable terror as they must battle this dreaded illness alone.
And yet, during this season of seeming misery, there is hope. I hold on to Frederick
Buechner’s great phrase that “the worst things are never the last things.” Even more, I hold on
to, in my opinion, the Apostle Paul’s greatest words: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Physical
distancing and isolation cannot separate us from God’s love, and neither can dwindling financial
reserves or difficult budgetary decisions. Closed churches cannot separate us from God’s love,
nor can unending amounts of negative news. Hoarded supplies that cause those in true
need to suffer cannot separate us from God’s love, and neither – especially, neither – can the
trauma inflicted on our healthcare workers and social services workers who stand on the front
lines of keeping the strained strands of our society together.
For the time being, our lives will continue to be greatly inconvenienced. Per an order from
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, we are “sheltering in place” until Monday, April 13 – the day
after Easter. Yes, that means you won’t (and shouldn’t!) be gathering to celebrate Palm
Sunday, walk through Holy Week, wash feet and take communion on Maundy Thursday,
solemnly and tearfully remember Good Friday, and ultimately to sing “Hallelujah” on Easter
Sunday morning. Public gatherings of any kind are to be eschewed until the end of April at the
earliest. Even more, public schools in Georgia are closed for the remainder of this current
school year. But these inconvenient days need not be the last things for us.
Because they aren’t.
I certainly believe that the Church of Jesus Christ, wherever she may be gathered and found, will be
profoundly different after this pandemic. The loss of financial capital may irreparably damage
some of the congregations and individuals who make up our Fellowship. The increase in
recorded media that allows people to watch and engage at their leisure rather than showing up as
the body of Christ at a particular time on a particular day will transform church attendance in
ways that we can’t yet imagine.
I also believe that the beauty of chalk art on the driveways of quarantined church members will
leave lasting memories. The drive-by Easter Egg hunts, to see children’s wonderfully colored
and decorated eggs, will become new sources of community building. Notes and letters,
written out of distress because we can’t physically be together, will continue to revive the souls
of writers and recipients.
COVID-19 and spring of 2020 will, perhaps, forever change the Church as we know it. Only time
will tell what these changes will mean and how we will respond. I do hope, however, to be able to tell future generations where I was when the Church underwent its great transformation.
Jody Long, April 2, 2020