To H2O Staff, H2O Students, H2O City Members, and H2O Kids,
We are living through strange times in Northeast Ohio. In all our years of life and ministry, we’ve never experienced something quite like this COVID-19 situation. The governor has declared a state of emergency and issued official recommendations to mitigate the threat of contagion at large group gatherings. Specifically, the recommendation from the governor is to avoid domestic and international travel, large gatherings, and communing where people are unable to be 3-6 feet apart. This led Kent State University (among other large state institutions) to cancel classes (and all other on-campus activities) for the next month.
Following the lead of government officials, health officials, and university officials in the contexts in which we conduct our ministry, our church’s Leadership Team made the difficult decision to cancel all worship gatherings, all Life Group gatherings, and all H2O group activities from March 11, 2020 until April 13, 2020.
We are acutely aware of the losses that result from this decision. In the face of such losses, emotions of shock, sadness, anger, disappointment, grief, confusion, and loneliness are entirely appropriate. It might even be natural to wonder: Are we prioritizing physical health at the expense of spiritual health? Without question, our plans have been disrupted. We’ve been presented with significant challenges to our way of life and ministry. But we choose to believe that the current situation also provides significant opportunities for our church.
We’ve been thinking and praying about how H2O Church can provide spiritual support and leadership for a campus that’s put itself into quarantine for the next month.
We don’t know if many of us will get sick from COVID-19. The scientific evidence seems to suggest that the actual threat to our lives and our physical well-being is limited. At the same time, the level of social disruption and the threat to our sense of community and our individual, emotional, and spiritual well-being is already considerable.
People are anxious. People are isolated. People are desperate for hope.
Fortunately, the Bible gives us great hope in times like this. It says that we who belong to the Family of God in Christ don’t have to live in fear (see Romans 8:15 and 2 Timothy 1:7)! Scripture reminds us that our “worst-case scenario” is eternal life with Jesus (Philippians 1:21). Jesus himself seemed to speak to a situation like ours, when he said, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home” (John 16:32). But he also reminded us that none of us are ever truly alone. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The current situation provides us with opportunities to get back to the essence of the Christian life. We don’t need an elaborate production or a highly-skilled team of musicians to worship the Lord. We don’t need 35-minute monologues from professional preachers to learn new things from the Word of God. We don’t need a crowd of hundreds to experience fellowship in the Spirit. In fact, Jesus explicitly told his followers that, “where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). He’s a “+ one” to any table of any size, as long as He’s invited and welcomed.
It’s kind of beautiful that the Kent State University quarantine is currently set to conclude on the day after Easter. For thousands of years, Christians have observed this period of purification and preparation in the lead-up to Resurrection Sunday, through the observance of Lent. It’s always provided a special opportunity to meditate on the “+ One” dynamics of an individual’s walk with God. Our externally-impelled separation by disease is really not so different from the time when the first followers of Jesus were forced underground because of political and social pressures connected to the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of their leader, Jesus (see Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 18-21, and Acts 1-2).
It just so happens that our church regularly publishes devotional guides for the seasons of Advent and Lent (which often correspond with seasons of scattering for our University-centered community). We have not yet put one out for this year’s observance of Lent. But the current COVID-19 situation seems to call for a return to this practice — among others. Here’s what we’re going to do:
For Bible Study: We will publish daily installments of Lenten devotional thoughts. Starting this Sunday, we will post a devotional every morning, and throughout the rest of the day we encourage church interaction through social media, text messaging, phone calls, and even small group gatherings (where two or three gather together as Jesus’ followers).
For Community: We want to pursue community in creative ways. We want to encourage each other to share where each of us are spending the next month of quarantine, through some sort of interactive map (we’ve got some ideas, but suggestions are welcome!). Hopefully, this will help each of us to feel less unknown, less alone.
For Encouragement: We hope that our people can seek each other out for small group gatherings — two or three gathered in Jesus’ name — where they can mutually encourage one another, catch up on life, pray together, reflect together on the day’s Scripture readings, and even break bread together (a creative idea for location sharing will help with this).
For Mission: We believe that God has prepared us to meet the needs of those around us. The evolving situation in our communities increases the need among “the least of these.” We want to “look out for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). To do this, we need to have our eyes open and be ready to serve those around us in practical ways.
For Hope: There’s still quite some time for circumstances to shift, but we’re already hopeful for the day that we can return to regular rhythms. We are starting to plan for our month of Lenten preparation culminating in some sort of creative celebration on Easter Sunday (we miss you guys already!).
The Church is the people of God, united in pursuit of His Kingdom. We’re praying, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We didn’t ask for this current situation, but our church is now scattered for the foreseeable future. We eagerly long for a way to stay connected, but we also want to commission you to “Go” and make the most of this opportunity. So look to God’s Word together. Look out for each other. Encourage one another. Be the Church to one another. We look forward to eventually hearing stories of how God meets you in this season.
Please feel free to contact us with any further questions, concerns, prayer requests, or whatever. We love you guys, and we’re praying for you.
Eric Asp and Jason Slack, H2O Pastors