Greetings CCOV UCC,
Last week I had a phone conversation with the former pastor of the church where I was ordained. We talk every few months, and each time he updates me on how many churches in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area have closed their doors. This time it was 43. In fact, the very church where I was ordained is on the market, and the remnant congregation is in turmoil. We both lamented the seeming decline of church as we have known it in our lifetimes. For many, the Covid-19 crisis is putting a final nail in the coffin, so to speak. Yet, I think there is hope. It’s just that churches of the future might look a lot different.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, just as most churches had gotten services up and running on line, a cartoon was circulating that pictured both God and the devil. The devil was smirking over all the churches that he had now closed. God, on the other hand, responds something like: Nonsense! I just opened one in every living room!
It may be that the brick and mortar churches we and our parents and grandparents have always known are giving way to a new move of the Spirit. Indeed, many iterations of church have come and gone over the centuries since Jesus walked the earth. Christians of the early centuries met in homes, in caves, underground, or in outdoor gathering places. Then came the great cathedrals of Europe and elsewhere. Then came the plethora of brick and mortar churches with which we are most familiar. Perhaps future churches will all be on line or even return to small house gatherings—or maybe hybrid combinations of brick and mortar, on line, and homes. I refuse to worry about any of it knowing the promise that God’s holy church will continue—even if great change disrupts our nostalgic notion of church.
We all know that younger people generally don’t sit through long church services any more, but they are apt to interact with screens and technology (like they do for work and entertainment) as well as show up for service projects, e.g. serving at UMOM, which for them tends to be more meaningful than sitting through services. A 30-minute on-line service may be quite palatable for them coupled with opportunities to serve. What we do know right now is that CCOV’s on-line services are being shared and reaching many living rooms—beyond the usual bounds of our sanctuary—and that may be a real God thing. We humans only change when stressed enough, so the silver lining of the post-Covid 19 world may be that we’ve given birth to the new move of the Spirit and the next iteration of church. My prayer though for now is that we return soon to our beloved building but continue our on-line outreach.