In my current phase of life, it’s increasingly unusual to come across a situation that I’ve never experienced. It’s even more strange to come across a situation that no one else I know has ever experienced. But that’s exactly where we find ourselves with this COVID-19 situation. Society is shutting down around us. Including public worship gatherings.
At this point, it’s still not illegal for churches to gather in groups larger than 100 people (faith communities have been granted special privileges, in an attempt to honor the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). Even so, our church’s Leadership Team ultimately decided that it — even if it’s not illegal — it may be immoral for us to adopt the “business as usual” mindset.
We honestly don’t know.
I’m reluctant to fault different ministry leaders for coming to different conclusions because, again, the current situation is unprecedented within living memory. But our church’s decision was made slightly easier because of our special relationship with Kent State University. The University made its own decision to shut down campus for the rest of the Spring Semester (and automatically cancel all of the room reservations for our regular church meetings on campus). After much conversation and prayer, our church leadership team cancelled all worship gatherings, all Life Group gatherings, and all other on-campus H2O activities. Even though it may be some time before we really know if our decision was a good one or not, I feel at peace about our course of action.
At the same time, we are acutely aware of the losses that result from this decision. The truth is that I’ve been vacillating wildly between hope and despair (which is at least consistent with other experiences of grief I’ve endured, so not totally unfamilar). I don’t think it’s helpful to sweep sadness under the rug and pretend like it’s not there. In fact, I think it’s extremely valuable to recognize, enumerate, and grieve the losses of that which might have been.
As one of the pastors for H2O Kent, these are some of the specific losses that I’ve been grieving this week:
- Life Group plans to study the Book of Hebrews on March 12th
- Outreach opportunities on “Fake Paddy’s Day” on March 14th
- Our March 15th Worship Gathering
- A special Baby Dedication that was supposed to happen to two of the young families in our church on March 15th
- The conclusion of our church’s teaching series on the the Apostle Paul’s Letter to Titus
- An Evangelism Training event that had been scheduled for March 16th
- A week of Life Group outreach activities leading up to Spring Break
- Our first Thirsty Thursday Outreach of the Spring season, which had been scheduled for March 19th
- The entirety of our church’s teaching series on Justice
- Our March 22nd Worship Gathering
- Our March 29th Worship Gathering
- Life Group plans to study the Book of James on April 2nd
- Thirsty Thursday Outreach opportunities on April 2nd
- Our newly-envisioned rite of passage ceremony for Sophomores and Seniors on April 3rd
- Our April 5th Worship Gathering
- Life Group plans to study the letters of John on April 9th
- Thirsty Thursday Outreach opportunities on April 9th
- Our April 12th Worship Gathering and Easter Celebration
- Life Group plans to study the Book of Revelation on April 16th and April 23rd
- Our April 19th Worship Gathering
- Our annual Family Sunday celebration (combined with the aforementioned Worship Gathering) on April 19th
- Our fourth Baptism celebration of the school year (combined with the aforementioned Worship Gathering and Family Sunday celebration) on April 19th
- End-of-the-Semester plans to celebrate everything God has done over the course of the school year
- At least three weeks (but probably more) of strategic engagement with the campus of Youngstown State University, through the Aspen Project
- At least three chances for our whole church to share Communion together at our Worship Gatherings
- At least three chances to talk about and practice worshiping God through Giving (which is something we’ve been working on as a church this year)
We’re also currently in the process of shutting down our Spring Break trips. This is especially heart-breaking for me because we had been poised for record-breaking participation in H2O-sponsored Spring Break trips. Unfortunately, these trips are now impossible because of shifts in policy from the federal government, the state government, our participants’ employment agencies, and the administration of Kent State University. We’re still in “Task Mode” at the moment, taking care of all the logistics associated with these trips. But once everything is finalized, there’s going to be another layer of grief to process the further losses to these highly-strategic, high-cost, once-a-year ministry initiatives:
- Ten people who have been planning to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, for cross-cultural missions opportunities among the refugee populations of the city’s northern neighborhoods.
- Seventeen people who have been planning to travel to Boston, Massachusetts, for opportunities to share the Gospel and explore church-planting possibilities in an area with some of the highest concentration of university students to be found anywhere in North America (or perhaps anywhere in the world).
- Fifty-four people have been planning to travel to a camp on the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, for opportunities to learn and practice spiritual disciplines in solitude and in community.
I’ve made a new playlist of sad music that I’m using to help mourn the losses: Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude… Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata… Sufjan Stevens’ Fourth of July… and other such dirges. I’m not sure why it helps to listen to these mournful, minor-key melodies. But it does. Walking in the woods and praying helps, too. I know that the Lord is near to the broken-hearted. But I also know that it doesn’t always feel that way. We must walk by faith during dark times like these and trust that the Lord will lift our heads. Somehow.