These are difficult days. Nothing in our lifetime has given us a paradigm on how to lead churches during this pandemic. The organizing principal of our churches is, of course, to gather in worship, be fed, forgiven, and faithfully challenged—then sent out to reflect the love of God in the world. It has been remarkably strange when that paradigm is flipped, when, as my bishop wrote, it is an act of faith to not gather in worship.
Is our Holy Week still holy when we are not able to gather around the table on Maundy Thursday or experience the stirring Good Friday service which stands in contrast to the joy of Easter morning? Are we still a resurrection people when we can’t gather to celebrate the resurrection?
Yes. And the first step to helping your congregants get there spiritually is to remind yourself of that fact. We are the Body of Christ no less when we are scattered Easter morning than when we are doing regular things during regular times on Friday nights or Monday mornings.
It will take some sustained leadership to help your church members experience the fullness of Holy Week. As the weeks of hunkering down make for crabby families, isolated elders, anxious economists, and exhausted health care providers, your presence as a steady reminder of God’s love in all of our days is needed.
To that end, continue to provide worship opportunities for all levels of technology. Call your older members with a short devotion and prayer over the phone; larger churches can recruit phone tree volunteers. Change the message on the church voicemail so people can call in for a calm moment of reflection appropriate to the day.
Keep the communication rolling. If you’re streaming worship using Facebook “Live,” invite people to put a note in the comments with a selfie of them worshiping. It warms my heart to see not just our members worshiping together during this time, but former members who have moved away and local and international newcomers. Do a kids’ time and ask parents to toss out names of kids who are watching. If you have a family member available, ask that person to jot down names and hold them up so you can give shout outs. Consider taking questions!
Snail mail? Hello, old friend! I’ve been revamping bulletins for home worship participation and mailing and emailing to my congregation. (I noted that if nothing else, the paper versions could double as toilet paper.) I also sent addresses of the homebound or members in nursing homes/assisted living to my email list; wouldn’t it be great if those folks were deluged with homemade Easter cards and kids’ art?
For Lutherans, The Use of Means of Grace asks that Holy Communion be celebrated only in our assemblies, but we have water available. Ask the worshiping body to remember their baptism, marking the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Remind them we are tied not only to Christ’s death, but resurrection, in times of joy and times of challenge.
Finally, lift up those stories in the gospels and Acts where the disciples are hunkered down, hiding, and afraid. At the appropriate time, we too will emerge from our cocooning to celebrate the resurrection and tell others.