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Homecoming

This article appeared in the May 15, 2020 issue of "Friday Reflection" of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.

Do you remember Enid Strict?

She was the “Church Lady” played by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live. Enid was tough on her guests, especially when it came to their sins—many ripped from the headlines of the day. Christianity and culture have had a complicated relationship. Still, people like Enid remind the Church that we can be our own worst enemy, especially when we exist in ivory towers secluded from the realities of society.

This past weekend Saturday Night Live again portrayed the Church. This time, SNL did a hilarious sketch about the “Zoom Church Experience.” It was funny because it was true—almost too real for those of us organizing and leading digital worship and meetings on Zoom. The pastor of Mount Methuselah Baptist Church struggles to preach over the “noise” of his congregants’ everyday lives zooming along in the digital world. Eventually, the pastor, so tired of the outside noise, says to his congregation, “The Lord wants everybody to click on that little microphone with the red line through it and where it says ‘mute’ hit ‘yes.’ Amen?!”

Hitting “mute” on the world is probably one of the gravest sins the Church can do, especially during this pandemic. However, we see it happen every day. Parts of our country and some of our most visible leaders are eagerly pushing for a “return to normal life.” A hurried return could and would mean more people become ill, and some will die as a direct result of the frantic pace to resume “normal life.”

It is one thing to see politicians and business leaders pushing for a speedy return. However, it is another thing to see “so-called” Christian leaders recklessly risking others’ lives by holding public services through the pandemic under the ruse of religious freedom. They might be a minority in the Christian narrative, but some faith leaders are demanding for their churches to be open, many who are denying the science behind the virus and its transmission. Throughout the country, there are churches even suing their state for the right to reopen their churches.

“God is commanding us not to give up the habit of meeting together,” said one pastor. He and I must be hearing different Gods! When we press “mute” on God’s call to love and care for others, people suffer, people die, and God’s heart breaks for all of humanity.

In the coming weeks, we expect to begin seeing an easing of gathering restrictions. States, including California, will allow churches to resume services in their sanctuaries under specific guidelines. Our natural reaction might be to rush over to the Church and jump head-first into the baptismal font (metaphorically, of course). We run the risk of saying: Let the people stampede into the pews, allow the choir to sing out an hour-long anthem, and most certainly feed us communion because we are starving for the bread of life. However, a hurried return will endanger lives, young and old, and could even lead to the death of the Church.

A rush back “into the normal” would require the Church to press mute on the world beyond our sanctuary walls. It would be a brazen and careless homecoming and a grave sin committed by the Church. I know under these circumstances that Ms. Enid Strict would not agree with an expedited return to the confines of the Church.

In our upcoming homecoming, whenever it may be, we are called to be thoughtful, meticulous, and ever mindful to care for those among us, especially those who are most vulnerable. Like the processional Cross entering the sanctuary, we are called to enter our houses of worship with steady, slow, and reverent steps. Like the most beautiful anthem at Christmas, our first note is not the crescendo; instead, we are called to be a community that gradually grows into the new normal following the pandemic.

We will return, we will sing, and we will be fed. We will be the community that once again gathers together for worship. Right now, the Church, more than ever, needs to suspend the urge to rely on Chronos (our timetable) and to entrust our future to Kairos (God’s timetable).

Amen?!


The Very Reverend Ryan D. Newman is the Dean of St. James Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin (Fresno, California). He can be reached via email:dean@stjamesfresno.org

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