Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” — Genesis 2:18
There have been some really interesting, encouraging things happening with our church since we have been apart. We apparently have more people joining our livestream than we were averaging in our weekly worship services (600 or so vs. 430 or so). Daily prayer at 9a on Facebook and Instagram draws about 50 people “together” to share prayer requests and then lift our concerns to the Lord. Giving to NAPC has continued to exceed expectations in light of the financial challenges many people face — thank you! Many people have reached out to one another in love and support, and have offered help to those who are in need within our congregation.
Personally, I have shared texts and messages with a few people who I would not have apart from the pandemic. One high school acquaintance reached out to tell me he had been livestreaming our services and had received great encouragement and peace in the midst of his own anxieties. Another few college friends reached out to tell me they had “gotten a lot out of” our worship service on Easter. These are men spread all around the country who I would not have predicted taking time out of their Sundays to visit our livestream. One woman who came to NAPC a handful of times back in 2011 reached out to me this week to tell me she appreciated our church “reaching out, praising and praying together in a time of chaos and panic.”
These are all things to celebrate. And yet, it is profoundly lacking to operate as a “virtual” church. In fact there is no such thing as a virtual church. The church by definition is the physically gathered body of Christ. It has little to do with a building, but everything to do with the people of God coming together to proclaim the praises of God as we feast upon the Word of God. We were created for community. “It is not good for man to be alone.”
In fact there is no such thing as a virtual church. The church by definition is the physically gathered body of Christ. It has little to do with a building, but everything to do with the people of God coming together to proclaim the praises of God as we feast upon the Word of God.
The last few weeks, it has felt to me like the direction we receive from our public officials and media is somewhere along these lines. This is not to say I blame them – the information and research all seem to change very quickly. It is clear that hospitals in Ohio have received far fewer patients with COVID-19 than what was anticipated. This is great news. Perhaps it is because of extreme social distancing. How long, though, can or should we continue to practice this?
There are tremendous costs all around. On the one hand are the costs of loss of life and the threat of the breakdown of our medical care system as with New York City. On the other, there is the cost of economic loss and financial ruin of businesses and the millions of unemployed in our country. Who knows what toll this will take in hidden tragedies like loneliness, addiction, despair and loss of purpose? Just as it is not good for humans to be alone, it is not good for humans not to work. Before sin entered the world, God gave work as a gift (Genesis 2:15).
One other cost that has been discussed far less in our media is the damage done to what Alexis de Tocqueville called “mediating institutions.” Tocqueville was a 19th century Frenchman who visited America and wrote a classic, influential work called Democracy in America. He describes the conditions that make democracy possible – voluntary organizations and institutions that are local and not primarily political. The cycling club, the local pub, the neighborhood bunko group, and the most important local group, the local church – all of these act as connective tissue, giving texture and richness to human life. I know I am biased, but I literally cannot conceive of my life over the last 15 years apart from the particular, local institution that goes by the name of New Albany Presbyterian Church. My primary friendships, my deepest joys and most painful sorrows, my offerings of hospitality and my sense of purpose — all of these have revolved around our church. Broadly speaking, churches and other voluntary associations strengthen local and particular communities and offer connections in life that an ever-encroaching State simply cannot provide.
Time will tell whether the policies we have all practiced over the last month will lead to the permanent weakening of vibrant local institutions and churches. It isn’t productive to Monday morning quarterback the decisions that have been made and I am not doing so here. My point is simply that having “virtual church,” while it has been and continues to be fruitful in amazing ways (praise the Lord!), is not a substitute long-term for the weekly worship of God’s people. Please pray for us as elders as we continue to use our God-given discernment to decide when we will return to physically gathering as a church, and how we will do it in a way that maximizes our shared concern for not spreading the plague.
I miss you all! It is not good for us to be alone.