Gathering God’s People During a Pandemic

When the covid19 pandemic caused our churches pause our public gatherings for worship and other activities in mid-March, we did not foresee ourselves 5 months later in mid-August still gathering virtually.

But here we are, and along the way we’ve figured out not only how to get on to Zoom but how to have a meaningful communal life there together. We learned how to cry, how to reflect on the Scriptures and how they speak to our upended lives, how to laugh and be silly, and how to tell each other the truth about our different experiences when George Floyd was murdered. All across this medium called Zoom that many of us had never even heard of in February.

Setting a background image from our sanctuary, the Vicar can lead Sunday morning worship from her living room, with a little of the feel of the physical surroundings of the church building space… but it’s still different. And we’re learning!

Currently in North Carolina where we are – which experienced a scary spike in covid19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in July – all these trends are in a slow but steady decline. If this continues into the Fall as schools and other businesses begin to re-open, we can also move toward re-opening our public worship life.

For some in our community this causes anxiety while for others it is hopeful balm for their weariness of living in isolation.

We can’t just “go back,” and maybe we don’t want to

The reality we envision in this next phase of the pandemic is not a jump from 100% virtual gatherings (Zoom only) to 100% in-person at the church building, but rather a hybrid-dispersed church community.

Some of our members now live far away or are medically vulnerable and so cannot safely return to gathering until a reliable vaccine is available. We have decided that having the option of “Zooming-in” to worship and other events is a high priority so that these members can continue to participate meaningfully and fully in our common life.

The sanctuary where we worshiped prior to the pandemic (what used to be the garage in the single-family home converted into a church) will not accommodate more than 5 households seated at appropriate safe physical distance, and we need to upgrade our technology and the internet strength so that we can offer hybrid worship from the church building. This will take some time and money.

Holy Communion in our small sanctuary (pre-covid19). Physically distancing by 6-8 feet is difficult!

But what if there are even more options than just Zoom, and just inside the church building, for being God’s People? (Spoiler, there are!)

The Wisdom and Experiences of our International Members

Across the world, especially in poor and remote communities across Latin America, Asia and Africa, the People of God organize themselves for Christian fellowship, spiritual growth, and missional witness in their community in simple, powerful ways.

Where there are few clergy and designated church buildings, basic communities (cells) are organized and led by lay (non-ordained) leaders. The people meet in homes and parks for Bible study, celebrations, mutual aid with neighbors and advocacy for the common good. From time to a time a priest will visit to preside at Holy Communion.

Among Holy Spirit’s wider body of members are a group of families, mainly from Honduras, who have been meeting for years in each other’s homes for worship and walking with Jesus in mission in the neighborhood. What if these leaders, these faithful siblings in Christ, could lead the way in modelling meeting like this now during this pandemic?

Celebrating Holy Communion at a humble kitchen table with this small basic community of Puerta Abierta in Greensboro in 2019

Toward Basic Communities – Dispersed in the City & United in Mission

We began looking at where our members live, created a digital map of the addresses, and saw clusters of homes in different parts of the city appear.

Local Christian communities, groups of several households (3-5) gathering around the Word of God and seeking to love each other and their neighbors in concrete ways, provide an option for incarnational Communion in Christ, even during these pandemic.

Our hope is that over the next few months, people will experiment with gathering in yards and parks around these clusters to experience the delight of in-person fellowship and extend the presence of Church of the Holy Spirit in our city in acts of prayer, praise, service, and advocacy.

We see in this model of being the church seeded throughout our community a way not just to gather safely during this pandemic but a way of being God’s People that will renew the church in a spirit of witness to Christ whose Life is for the whole world.

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