“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” - James 1:2-4
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many congregations have wisely chosen to suspend large gatherings to slow the transmission of the virus and to protect the most vulnerable. While this interruption to normal patterns of worship, teaching, and fellowship will strain some institutions, it also provides an opportunity for us to rediscover other spiritually nourishing practices.
It’s worth remembering that church ≠ content. Information is easily transmitted through disincarnate means—video, podcasts, live-streams, books, emails, etc., but participation in the church has always been an embodied reality. Even the Apostles wrote letters to instruct the first Christians (content), but their letters always assumed Christians pursued their faith through incarnate community (church).
During the weeks ahead, we ought to consider both how to nourish ourselves with content and how we will continue to participate in the incarnate community of the church even if larger gatherings are not possible. Here are some ideas for both:
1 - Check with your local congregation to see if Sunday messages and/or music will be live-streamed.
2 - Select a topic or series from The Bible Project. Watch a video together and discuss it as a household or group. The Bible Project includes excellent content, but how to apply the teaching to your household, neighborhood, or context could lead to wonderful conversations.
3 - For younger families, Phil’s Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids is excellent. (And I’m confident adults will learn a lot too.)
4 - For households with adolescents and older, WITH GOD DAILY has reflections, scripture passages, and prayers. The app includes dozens of archived series, so you can find one that fits your group.
5 - Engage a Bible reading plan for everyone in your household. I recommend the list of plans compiled by Ligonier Ministries.
6 - Serve those who are most at risk. Check with neighbors or your local church leaders to see who needs extra help, or who may need to avoid exposure to public places. Delivering groceries, medicines, or other supplies is a tangible way to love our neighbors.
7 - Make dinner sacred. Light a candle as a symbol of Christ’s presence with you. Pray for family and neighbors most at risk from the virus, as well as our civic and public health leaders responsible for responding to this challenge.
8 - Incorporate a simple liturgy or prayer into your mealtime. Here’s the prayer we’re using in this week’s WITH GOD DAILY from Thomas à Kempis (1380 - 1471):
I will presume to speak to you, my Lord, though I am mere dust and ashes. If I imagined myself to be anything more, you would confront me with my sins, which bear witness against me. But if I humble myself and acknowledge my nothingness, then your grace will come to me, and your light will enter my heart. So let the last trace of pride be swallowed up in the depths of my own nothingness and perish forever. Let me see myself for what I am and what I have been, as mere nothingness.
Now, Lord, look upon me. Your gaze can turn my nothingness into newness, my darkness into light, my misery into joy, my death into life. When I become nothing, I discover both myself and you. When I admit I deserve nothing, you shower me with blessings. You are my salvation, my power, my strength.
9 - Each day, invite someone from the family to come to the table prepared to share a passage of scripture, an encouraging story, or another reading that serves to focus everyone on God’s presence and character.
10 - Hebrews 10:25 instructs us to gather in order to encourage one another. Invite each person to share a “high” from the day as a form of encouragement and gratitude, as well as a “low” from the day for prayer and support.
If you have more ideas I’d love to hear them. You can share your household’s practices and interact with others in the comments below.