By Pastor Wesley Thompson, Bethel Colbert Missionary Baptist Church
There I am, awake early as usual. My wife and 3 sons are still asleep. I walk in the kitchen to open the refrigerator and pantry. Both are met with only a blank stare and an inaction to grab anything. I sit at the kitchen table observing the sun completely revive from its slumber. I think to myself, “This feels so weird and uncomfortable.” I then proceed to the living room, looking down at my house slippers while pacing the floor. I pick up the remote control to find something interesting on television, but soon after hit the off button in disappointment. I remain sitting idle, playing with a small tear in my pajama pants. Once again, I think to myself, “This feels so weird and uncomfortable.” I then go into the kid’s room hoping they’re up to provide me some form of entertainment, but they’re still snoring from a late night of watching The Lion King. I check the clock to see how much time I have left before needing to grab my iPad. 8:30 am finally hits, and I log into Facebook to click on our church’s page. I take a seat back in my recliner and for the next hour watch a live pre-recorded video of our church service.
It’s Sunday morning. I am accustomed to having on my necktie, instead of my nightwear. It’s Sunday morning. I am used to the exuberant sound of high praise in the sanctuary, instead of the silent faint quietness in my living room. It’s Sunday morning. I am used to being in assembly with the saints, instead of in aloneness with self. Once again, I think to myself, “This feels so weird and uncomfortable.”
Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has altered our society in every imaginable aspect. I don’t believe any pastor thought during our Watch Night services as we stepped out of 2019 into 2020 with the anticipation of God’s great vision ahead, that part of God’s vision would be for us to make the difficult decision to suspend our Sunday morning worship services. Pastors across our state I’m sure had the same weird and uncomfortable feeling as myself on that first Sunday of not gathering. We all undoubtedly miss being inside our churches. We miss the warm hugs and bright smiles during fellowship. We miss hearing heartfelt praying and singing. We miss proclaiming to the masses the power of the Gospel from our pulpits. We miss the comfortableness of practicing our faith in the walls of the sanctuary.
In Genesis 12:1, God says to Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (NRSV). God rearranged Abram’s life of familiarity by calling him to journey to new territory never seen before. Abram was forced to walk away from every comfortable measure he depended on to survive, only to solely rely on God in a time of uncertainty. Just based on human nature, I’m sure Abram felt a weirdness and uncomfortableness as his world around him changed. Nevertheless, Abram without question simply went as the Lord had told him.
The world around us is changing, which is causing the church around us to change as well. God is now stretching us from comfortable, to uncomfortable. And do you know what I’ve discovered? That’s not a bad thing! Missing the comfortableness of what we know and what we usually practice, is now introducing us (The Church) to new knowledge and new practices. We have received our own nuanced Abramic call to leave our father’s houses (leave our churches), to go to a land the Lord is showing us. A land that is virtual. A land that is 21st century inviting. A land that is cybernetic. A land that is still allowing us to serve and minister, albeit uncomfortably.
It is a land that has young pastors calling seasoned pastors asking for crisis advice on how to maintain the equity of the church through finances, and it has seasoned pastors calling young pastors asking for crisis advice on how to maintain the engagement of the church through Facebook. It is a land showing us that the nature of God and the ability of God is not restricted to the inside corners of a building with a steeple. It is a land proving to hold accountable those of us who have ever made the statement, “I don’t have to wait until I come to church to praise God!” It is a land where someone you and I are connected with on social media will hear about Christ for the very first time, all because they clicked on our livestream to watch our church service. It is a land stretching our faith to truly believe that God is going to continue to take care of His Church and His people, even if we can’t physically be together for a period of time.
Unlike Abram, I am confident God will grant us access to return back to our “father’s house.” This new land we find ourselves in will not be permanent. However, we must not make the mistake of forgetting or dismantling what God has shown us in this new land. There are renovation and upgrade blueprints we are collecting in this new land, that will be beneficial for us to bring back to our father’s house when we return.
Over these weeks, I have learned to embrace instead of eject this uncomfortable blessing of not being in church on Sunday mornings. For someone still struggling, I encourage you to do the same! I know it’s stretching you, but embrace it! I do not believe this to be a period of God punishing the church. On the contrary, I believe it to be a period of God purifying the church. The purifying has produced for us both bad news and good news. The bad news is, the church as we know it will be changed. The good news is, the church as we know it will be changed.
Pastor Wesley Thompson, MDiv, Bethel Colbert Missionary Baptist Church