For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  -Romans 8:24-25 (NIV)
Quarantine life is interesting. For our family, we have been able to treat this time as an extended summer vacation that allows us to spend quality time together without having to worry about what time it is, or where we are supposed to be on any particular day. Through distance learning, I have not only earned my continuing legal education credits for the 3-year period but have also resumed the course of study toward becoming a Certified Lay Speaker (take some time to register for a course). I have also been able to catch up on things that have lingered because I never had time to get around to them (which not only includes projects around the house, such as cleaning the garage but might also have included watching Tiger King and 90 Day Fiancé). But mostly, I wait for the State of Indiana to reopen.

We are not the first group that has been called to wait. The Apostles had just watched their best friend be taken, crucified, and killed. They knew in their minds what Jesus had said about his resurrection, but if I were one of them, would I have believed it in my own heart? How would I have responded on that first Good Friday (which would have just been called “Friday”). Regardless of whether Jesus actually returns, much work still needs to be done and someone would have to put together a plan to finish what Jesus had started. As Sunday approaches, I would continue working on explanations for why he has not appeared, just in case, while continuing to hold out hope that Jesus would return. And despite having these contingencies in place, Jesus arrives, on time, just like he said. Sometimes focusing on hope is good enough.

While my time spent at home watching Netflix does not compare to what the Apostles experienced, knowing Jesus does return provides hope that everything will be okay. However, life will not be like it was just a few weeks ago just because the Governor begins lifting restrictions. I may need to wear a mask whenever I leave the house. I am much more conscious of personal space and leery of anyone that does not practice social distancing. Hand sanitizer is used multiple times a day, and my hands are washed as soon as I enter the house.

Our church has done a great job in responding to the pandemic. Like many of you, we transitioned to virtual services. I do not think it is necessarily better (although it is certainly nice to walk down the stairs to the living room and remain in my pajamas during worship), nor is it necessarily worse (even though it is hard not seeing people that I have spent time with every week for years). I can only say that it is different.

But different might be just what our churches need. What if we were to use what we have learned these past few weeks to reevaluate our churches operate? How many of us have held back on trying something new, simply because it was different? Some churches have considered offering services at different times in order to reach people where they are. Does Zoom provide a different platform to allow congregants to worship together at any time (and do so while in pajamas)? Is this a different way to promote the development of small groups?

Preaching is also different. It is probably the only form of communication where you are expected to sit still for 15-20 minutes as someone speaks at you and then you leave even if you have questions (try raising your hand during a sermon and see what kind of reaction you get from the rest of the congregation, especially if it close to lunchtime). How would service be different if we could replicate the worship experience happening in our living rooms? What if, instead of our children asking questions, members of the congregation were given the opportunity to engage in two-way communication and discuss the sermon while it was being presented? Would this different way of approaching service provide a richer worship experience?

Most importantly, what if we approached Sundays differently and worship was the only thing we had planned? No lunch reservations, no sports or concerts to rush to, and no grocery shopping or laundry that had to be completed for the next week. What if, instead of church being something that we hurriedly checked off the To-Do List, we simply slowed down and focused on meeting the spiritual needs of ourselves and others?

While none of us have ever experienced anything like quarantining before, it does provide an opportunity to rethink how we do church. What ideas have your churches implemented during these last few weeks? Please feel free to share those with me and I will pass them along. As followers of Christ, we know that everything will work out. Let’s see how we can continue to provide that same hope to others as we wait patiently for what is to come.

by Terry Tolliver
Central District Lay Leader