by Alyssa Vasquez
The call to fellowship looks different now.
The Skagit Valley Chorale, located in Washington state, continued to hold weekly rehearsals after the state government released stay-at-home orders. Three weeks later, 45 choir members tested positive, three were hospitalized and two died due to COVID-19. It was a shock to the small town of Mount Vernon, Washington, and to the congregation at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church..
Hebrews 10:24-25 is a command to fellowship and to not stop gathering together as others have done. It is a command to encourage one another. How do we fulfill this biblical command while also following the local authorities’ command to “shelter in place” during these times? What is the role of the church during this historic moment? As some churches are grieving and others are calling this an opportunity for a revival, the inherent complexities of these questions and the reality of how one event can affect individuals differently are on full display.
Grief is present in churches that were not prepared to adapt to virtual platforms and were already experiencing low numbers on a “good” membership Sunday. Grief is present in the heart of pastors who have lost half or more of their salary. A Washington, DC community leader I spoke with predicted that approximately 20-30% of churches will not “bounce back from this”[i] and will decide to merge with another community or “close their doors” altogether. Grief looks like empty pews, empty parking lots, and uneventful bulletins. In light of this, we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, must remain prayerful and aware of local church communities impacted during this season. It’s essential that we also remain aware of the underserved communities and schools, “the least of these,” that do not have access to resources that would allow them to thrive under the shelter in place policies.
Where loss is present in some communities, others are thriving. These churches have switched to completely virtual services and are looking at COVID-19 as an opportunity to share God’s love and to continue building the church outside of its physical walls. As an example, I received word of a church in Philadelphia, C3 Church, that is launching virtually during these times! The senior pastor, Pastor Stanley Phillipe, of Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural in the Dominican Republic, has charged his community to remain hopeful and also generous during this crisis, to view it as an opportunity to serve—as exemplified in its ongoing sacrificial contributions to neighboring communities that are under-resourced. At one point, a grandmother who benefited from their contributions expressed a deep sense of appreciation because she was now able to feed her pregnant daughter who had not eaten in four days. In spite of the real grief that many communities are experiencing, this is just one of many examples of how the Church is rising up and heeding the commands detailed in Hebrews 10:24-25.
In light of all these developments, I remain hopeful. Hopeful that in grief or in revival, in loss or gain, the local Church will prevail. Perspectives are changing on the call to fellowship and what the modern-day church will look like. And this is good news, because the Church was never meant to remain inside of four walls. God’s plan for redemption has not changed just because the methodology has. His plan of redemption is still through people and the call to fellowship remains.
Alyssa Vasquez is founder of YouBelong, LLC, which helps connect individuals to communities.
[i] Interview with CEO and Reverend Daryl Dudley. March 15 2020.
Photo by John Benitez on Unsplash