By Church Life and Leadership
We have all experienced the “great disruption” and we have all landed at different points to the notion “am I going back to church”? As we share the various stories of people perhaps you can hear, empathize or maybe even change your perspective as a result of their sharing.
I have been a long-time member of my church. I have faithfully served the Lord as a Sunday School teacher, youth worker and group leader. As I got older and transitioned into retirement, I found that not only did my service to the church change, but my health also began to decline. When COVID hit, we stayed home, my adult children did our grocery shopping, and we began to experience online church for the first time. It was great to still connect with our pastor (one-way) over the internet, us old folk learned to have zoom conversations (but the phone still worked for us too) for our seniors’ groups to stay connected.
After service the other Sunday, our pastor posed the question, “am I going back to church?”. I sat and pondered. At what point did I stop “being” the church? What exactly am I coming back to? There was not a lot of information about what the church is doing or not doing. I am still immuno-compromised, can I still wear a mask, will others still wear a mask, will others keep a distance, will others stay home if unwell? Can we resume seniors’ group? There was not a lot of clarity, discussion or information from our leadership, it was just an invitation or almost a decree to come back. I’m still giving online, I’m still serving online, I’m still participating online, am I going back to church?
I love my kids but I’m exhausted. I almost feel embarrassed confessing that, does that make me a bad mom? My kids are just your normal run of the mill kids, 3 of them all under the age of 5. So, when work from home was a thing, it really was not a thing. I could barely hold a thought; I could barely squeak in any time without being interrupted. There was no day care, there were no other options. My husband and I took shifts to figure out the best way to manage both of us at home and all the kiddos too. We are so tired and exhausted that on Sundays we just need not have to try to add anything more to our plate. Online church was good, but again, my kids do not sit there and understand a 20min message. Nothing hits home for them. Some of the worship leaders had little ‘stuffies’ that my kids would keep a keen eye out for, but nothing connected with them.
Pastor said the other Sunday, “it’s time to come back to church”. There will be no kids program running, the nursery room will not be open, my kids are not fully vaccinated for COVID, there really was no vaccine for them until much later and it has been hard to schedule their shots. I’m barely keeping my head above water at home and now you want to pack up our kid’s stuff (bottles, diapers, snacks, strollers, wipes), load them in the minivan, trek 20mins to church, unload into the church, only to look after them there without any of the toys, “corner” bumpers, nursery, change table, stroller parking? Am I going back to church?
I’m back to church, I’m serving, I’m giving. I’ve been working hard to get our programs re-started. Don’t you know how much background work needs to happen before something happens? Where is everybody? I always thought that if we “build it, they will come”, well we’re ready for you to come back but you’re not showing up. Where is everybody? Are you sitting at home in your PJs just watching church? Don’t you know someone like me is trying and working hard and when you don’t show up, it hurts me, it’s a punch in my gut. Maybe you need to be a little more committed as the pastor says, maybe you need to re-think what it means to be a Christian. I know that’s harsh but where is your commitment? I bet I will bump into you at the mall, a restaurant or at the movie theatre. Am I going back to church? I did, where are you?
When COVID hit, I didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to turn to. It just so happened our neighbour talked about being a Christian and going to church and church was now online. So, I decided to check it out. It was easy. I did not have to worry about what to wear, directions to the building, where the washroom was, what to say or not to say, I simply had to show up. I have enjoyed my time online with this church. I like what that pastor talks about, it really resonates with me and gives me lots of hope. I started giving to the church, but I was kind of surprised that no one reached back out to me. You are willing to take my money without really saying hi? So, I guess there is a disconnect somewhere, but whenever I gave to a charity, I always got a thank-you letter in reply, even though it was a standard letter. Pastor announced to sign the online connection card, I did, and still, no one has reach back out to me. Am I wrong to believe that church is supposed to be a welcoming place? Now the pastor is instructing us that we should all go back to church. I’m scared, I’m nervous, if you can’t welcome online, will in-person be any better? Now I need to figure out what to wear, what are the directions to the building, where to park, where the washrooms are, what to say or not to say. Am I going back to church?
Is it me? Is it the building? Is it the people? Is it the culture? Are we really being the church? Do people really care? What am I doing? What should I be doing? Is it my fault? What are people hearing us say? What are we not saying clearly? Have I done enough to address the concerns and fears? Why are we so slow to adapt and change? Am I still the right person to lead this church? I’m anxious, I’m restless, I’m tired, I’m fed up, I’m trying, I’m hopeful and I’m still scared. Am I going back to church? I am back at church, I never left, but I don’t know “what’s next”?
Does anyone’s story above resonate with your story?
Have you been able to empathize with anyone’s story?
Have you been challenged to re-think your perspective because of hearing someone’s story?
Perhaps the following words can be a point of reflection for all of us. “Love believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7) calls us to think the best of others, giving them the benefit of doubt unless we have overwhelming proof to the contrary. It does not mean we are gullible, but it does means not rushing to think the worst. “Am I going back to church?” Whatever the reason you give – love believes all things.