Lectionary reading: Psalm 104:24-35 (NRSV)
Pentecost is of course, the celebration of when the church began as recorded in the Book of Acts by Luke. We have seen almost 2,000 years of history since that day and the church has undergone lots of changes due to cultural shifts. We may be in the midst of another. We often speak of the current isolation effecting the world's economy but if we drill down a bit, we can see that it will also effect the church.
There is an economic impact that individual churches are facing. Most churches already operate without a lot of cushion to their budgets and this will be difficult - especially for the smaller congregations. While the coronavirus has touched church members around the world, we have also experienced higher than average death rate for other causes as well. This may be from the heightened stress breaking down immune responses.
|Some congregations have a season of faithfulness|
and later close. This is a normal cycle of life.
As we offer online worship, it seems that our participation may, for some churches, be higher than when they were meeting in the building. Of course, gauging a good number for this is difficult and the standards seem to vary depending on who's doing the counting. But there is a possibility that Christianity will reach more people through this health crisis. What may be hard to determine is how many of the larger churches are reaching viewers from smaller churches that aren't able to access their own church. Even though modern technology makes it possible for all churches to broadcast worship, the training or expertise for such endeavors is not equally distributed.
When churches begin to meet again in their buildings, we will likely see less people present physically which will hopefully be offset by people continuing to worship online. One possibility would be that some people won't come back after the hiatus. Lots of things cause people to fall away but with this pause, it may be that more people than usual will decide they won't be returning. As we see American society move away from regular worship as a whole, will this accelerate the decline?
The Psalm reading for Pentecost doesn't mention anything really about the church (of course any Old Testament nod to the church is Christian extrapolation) or even corporate worship. It is more individually spiritual as the human spirit witnesses to the Creator among all the outdoor observance. There is a sense of gratitude that comes when we experience the mystery of God's creation.
Even with the ebb and flow of church participation through the ages, people feel a sense of the sacred through a variety of experiences. As the psalmist declares, "I will sing praise to God while I have being," we can recognize that we often have a desire to gather with others to share the mystery we find in the whole of the created order. As Paul writes to us through Romans 1:20, we are reminded,
"Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."This reminds us that God touches people all around the world. God can be experienced simply by walking in the woods. The church will undergo changes as it always has but it will come through this coronavirus. Some individual places will close but as a whole, the expression will continue. Some churches will grow after we begin to meet in person again. And the church will continue after we're gone. But how we respond today will make a difference to future generations.
It's exciting to be on the cusp of something new. What will God do with us as we celebrate this latest birthday of Christ's church? Join us online as we continue to explore our future together!
Photo by Forsaken Fotos via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.
All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.