Peace of Christ pastors have been reflecting on our worship gathering during “covid-time” and wanted to share their thoughts. This summer, probably until the end of August, we are organizing for worship around small group backyard gatherings, and we’re working our way through the Minor Prophets together in these groups. This is an open-handed discernment, open to conversation and discussion. But we know there are many opinions and needs throughout our community. For that reason, we wanted to share the four-fold rubric for our discernment about gathering together during covid-time.
The following is an abbreviated, edited outline of the video conversation.
Four components for discerning when and how to gather during covid-time:
- Is it legal?
- Is it ethical?
- Is it missional or part of what God is doing here?
- Is it practical?
Some folks in the community have asked or are thinking, should we be gathering back in The Commons on Sunday morning since we are in Phase Four?
This is the legal question, right, as we’re now allowed up to 50 people. That’s two thirds or 75% or so of the community that could be in one place at the same time. And so—is it legal to do so?—the answer now is yes.
So then, the next question is: is it ethical?
This is a complicated question because we know that being out of community, being apart from each other, has its own negative ethics. And as pastors we’ve seen there are not a small number of families who have opted out of Zoom gatherings, the Sunday morning gatherings. We want people to be in regular worship, and so we struggle with the ethics of not doing what is normal for us and in changing what is normal. Some families have decided not to participate. And so there is an ethical piece of maybe we should go back to what is normal because as worship falls out of the rhythms of people’s lives it creates challenges in our allegiance to following Jesus. But on the other side, you know, we have folks in our community who are immunocompromised, are awaiting surgery, are quite concerned about the physical risk to themselves of gathering in larger groups. The ethics of putting people in groups and what we’re seeing that means for communities across the country as larger groups gather does make me think that the larger ethical issue is troubled as well.
So, that brings us to the third question which is: is it missional?
And when we say that, we really mean, “what is the Spirit is doing in this time and this place?” And “What is the way that God is inhabiting our community in this special way and Westmont and, and our neighbors?”
Some of the things that we were thinking through—and what was really surprising and convicting to me—was the real beauty that has been born out of these backyard liturgy gatherings. People learning to do the core practices that we’ve committed to as a community which is proclaiming the gospel to one another. It’s given us this season, where we can, on the ground, learn what that looks like, and practice it with different people. And because our groups are a mix, that provides a different ability for us to hear the gifting of one another. I think I’m actually hearing and learning from the giftings of our community in the smaller groups more than some of the times that I’m gathered in our all-together corporate gathering, on a Sunday morning at the building. I’m hearing from more of what the Spirit is doing in your lives and what you’re being prompted to do through your gifts. And, and I think that is a really something to take note of. I think that God seems to be doing something different in these gatherings. It almost reminds me of some of our history of our being a church plant gathering in houses and the things that we learned and grew out of these times where we had smaller groups.
Zoom felt very much like nothing new is happening here. What we want to do was taken away from us, and so let’s just make the best of a bad situation and try to get through it and try to survive until we can get back to the way it was before. And, you know, the way the pandemic has progressed, I think, it’s taken that away from us, which I think was actually not the most faithful response—let’s just hunker down and get through. And now our new form that harkens back to some of our earlier forms—well, yes, there’s still some grief—but there are good things too. It’s a gift of a new expression. And this new time that is not just a loss and a mourning, but God is doing something new here. And this is the way God is—nothing is ever wasted, nothing is lost. There’s a gift of flourishing in some of these smaller gatherings that we can embrace. This is not just a concession that now we’re going to get through, not to say we never want to gather again, all together, you know, and the gift of that space. But there’s something happening here for this moment for us within this time and context we find ourselves in that is the work of God, by the Holy Spirit. It’s not just a “let’s get through this as best we can” sort of posture.
I think that’s a huge difference in my experience compared to the last couple months.
Since we’ve been kind of making do on Zoom this goes beyond making do.
The last question is: is it practical?
Is it logistically possible for us to do it? There are a lot of moving pieces, some requirements from the government about cleaning and about contact tracing; there are some questions about how children can gather and do their discipleship rhythms, which is a big question for us because of social distancing still mandated regulations and, and so there are a lot of complexities in that and we would have to devote a good amount of resources to be able to answer those questions. I would hate for us to miss opportunities of the thing that God is doing to try and solve questions that are not worth solving right now. And they may be coming up, but I am much more captivated by the way that God is doing something in these smaller gatherings. And I think that for me, that helps me come to terms with the ambiguity and some of the earlier questions and then some of the complexity of the later ones.
We urge and challenge that all of us think about the worship rhythm or our lives. And consider how your life has been shaped, where is that formation happening?