The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.
The era of COVID 19 has been marked with worry, uncertainty, panic in some, as well as overwhelming grace and inspiring faith. Quarantine itself is a curious mix of boredom and anxiety for most. At some points, we can get the feeling like it is all over and everything is back to normal. But, then we are rocked back to the actual state of things. All of this is intensified by vague, confusing and contradictory information we receive from a myriad of sources. And all the while, you are now expected to make your own decisions for your best health and welfare. These are strange times.
We might characterize our experience as our own wandering in the wilderness referred to in the Deuteronomy text above. God’s people with Moses and Aaron traveled the wilderness of the Sinai after finding freedom from captivity in Egypt. They wandered the desert without a definable plan. This time together led the people to frustration and leadership to challenges never before considered. Sounds much like what we are experiencing now. All the elements are there! This is a lot like that wandering in the wilderness. We crave contact with other people, no two days look the same, and many of the most dear things we have come to expect from regular life have changed. There it is! Wandering in the wilderness.
But the time in the wilderness was far from lost time for the people of God. They used the time to become a people. They grew in numbers. Their faith was tested from without and from within. At the end of the time, they were ready to confront their fears and take possession of God’s promises for them. Their time was fruitful, even if it didn’t feel that way while it was happening. The question is, how are we going to use our wilderness wandering time?
By now you have heard that the Session (church board) has concluded there are just too many risk factors to resume in-person worship right now. All the resources they had at their disposal were unanimous in this recommendation. It is more appropriate to continue to worship via webcast than in person. Factors they considered were: half or more of our congregation makes up the “high risk group”, worship attendance is an exceptionally risky event, and the logistics of in-person worship would require us to take temperatures, quiz for risk factors, wear masks and, most significantly, refrain from singing or saying prayers out loud. In the end, to worship in person would mean less participation and more risk. That is just the wrong choice. The Session and I want to worship together as much as you do. But, it is important to worship with integrity for what worship is intended to be, an event we all participate equally.
With all this on the table, I have a message of hope for you. That message is, the church grows, especially in times of crisis and just like the people of Israel. One example is we had a child join our Sunday School while in quarantine! We have learned to provide video-based worship that extends our worship community far beyond those here in the bay area. By many estimates, the numbers who “attend” our worship service have also grown. The church also reaches out to those in need in the community with very real help. The church is growing in this time of crisis. It always has.
I feel the church grows in times of crisis because we grow. You and I confront our fears by giving them to God. Then, we watch as God faithfulness comes through. When confronted by loss, uncertainty, and doubt God’s faithfulness is close at hand. We experience God’s presence and provision in ways that remind us of God’s great love for us.
So, we will wander the wilderness a bit longer. I say, make it worth something! Make the most of the online worship option. If that is not possible, we will send you the bulletin and message in the mail. Grow in your connection with God. Also, grow in your connection with people. Reach out via phone, letters, video conferencing, or with careful visits. Social distancing does not mean being socially distant. Relationships are even more important now! Make use of the online Bible study
option! We will read through the four Gospels between now and Christmas. God’s word brings healing and growth. Lastly, the church is now exploring how we can provide congregational care in deeper ways. We are considering how we can develop a team of people to help us make and deepen our relationships while we wait for a solution to this health emergency.
God will bless the work of your hands. God will watch over your journey. God is with you. Make the most of this journey through the wilderness. Grow in how you trust in God’s faithfulness. Grow in how you embrace community. Grow in how you reach out to
others in God’s name.
Grace and peace,