I Miss Church!

Where is the church in these quarantine days? It’s everywhere, and that’s a good thing. We certainly miss being together though. Let me start with where the church staff is. We miss everybody and being together. Zoom meetings are nice, but still not the same. We’re steady at work, maybe more than ever, just in a different way. Everybody needs a pat on the back every now and then, and this crew has earned it, so thanks for all the notes of encouragement. Every two weeks I have been writing reports for our Staff-Parish Committee so that I can affirm what each staff member is doing during quarantine. Each person has gone above and beyond! We don’t know when we will be back together, but we’re certainly doing ministry in the meantime.

You are doing ministry, too! It may not feel like it sometimes, but you are. This church is all about the mission of Christ. You’re doing ministry wherever you are, and your cards, calls, Facebook posts, emails, texts, and continued giving are a witness to it. The church is deployed, not unemployed. During COVID-19 we may not be physically in the church building, but let me tell you that the church, staff and congregation alike, is busy. Satan may think he’s won by closing churches down, but we’re not closed. We’ve just left the building! We’re meeting by Zoom, phone calls, texts, mail, Facebook Live, and last, but not least, by prayer. We’re having church in people’s houses and rooms, and all sorts of places. We’re proving the fact that the church is not a steeple, it’s the people.

This doesn’t mean that 104 Newberry Street isn’t important, or that we don’t miss it. While we’re doing church offsite we also want our facilities to be in their best shape when we get back. We’ve discovered that this is a great time to catch up on some repairs. It is also a great time for us to disinfect the whole building. We want to make sure that St. John’s is the safest place in Aiken when we’re able to come back together.

 There’s already been one complete top-to-bottom disinfecting done to our huge facility. We will do it again before we return. Yesterday our Trustees voted to purchase 3 motorized disinfecting atomizers and 100 gallons of a liquid virucide that can be sprayed on every surface, and kill coronavirus and every other germ in five minutes. These machines can do 5,000 square feet in 15 minutes, and our buildings are about 25,000 square feet.

The reason why we’re doing this is quite apparent. The church building itself is a physical, emotional, and spiritual sanctuary for all of us. For instance, we call the most used worship space a sanctuary – a sacred safe place! There are towns that have bird and squirrel sanctuaries. Well, the church is our people sanctuary. Maybe you’ve noticed the ceiling in the sanctuary, and how it is shaped like the interior hull of a ship. It’s meant to look like that. For centuries, churches ceilings have been reminders that the sanctuary is like Noah’s ark that saves us from life’s floods by floating us to safety.

Every part of the church, from the Faith Center’s Cross and Fronds sculpture to the outdoor signs, carries spiritual meaning and encouragement. As a side note, I’ve seen some hilarious, helpful, and pointed church signs during the pandemic: “Give us clean hands, O Lord, and a Purell heart,” “Services cancelled. God is now making House Calls,” “Jesus rode an Ass into Jerusalem. Keep yours at home!” and “6 Feet Apart is better than 6 Feet Under.” Well, sorry if these may have been a bit over the top, but, while most of our bodies are at home, we want our signs, ceilings, and symbols to communicate that Jesus is Lord, and that He will defeat COVID-19.

Church members and staff are deployed beyond the walls, with most of us working from home. As we think about getting back to worshiping together, we all need to get prepared: What can we do to disinfect our lives, and clean up our individual temples of the Holy Spirit? The church has left the building, and that is always a good thing, but what kind of shape will the church building be in when we come back? How about us? I think we’re finding out that the church is the people and the steeple. It’s both/and nor either/or. Thanks for who you are, St. John’s [insert your church’s name]!



You know it might be a less than stellar day when you think you’re walking out a door only to find it was a locked closet. I’m in the throes of my last season of charge conferences, and they have mostly been great. There have been mixed emotions as I have realized that in 8 years these church leaders and their familiar faces have been my church family. I know them by name. They know me. I am saying “Goodbye” to my parish though it will be next June until it actually happens.

This adds perspective to my consultations with clergy. Some of them have been telling me that they either anticipate moving or retiring next year. I wonder if they are feeling the same mixed emotions that I am. There’s a sense of turning the page, anticipation, even relief, but there’s also sadness and anxiety. These transitions from one ministry to another are fraught with possibility and peril. It’s like being a trapeze artist and you’re swinging from one bar to the next. I’m holding on tight to one bar while reaching out expectantly and nervously to the bar coming my way. The problem is all in when to let go of the bar you’re on. Too soon and it’s splat, and too late and it’s splat. It’s not much better if you end up caught in the middle with arms stretched out with one hand gripping one bar and one hand gripping the other. That’s an awkward position that’s reminiscent of Jesus’ outstretched arms and hands on the cross – cramps and crucifixion. Horrible!

Do we let go and leap today? Do we start moving forward while remaining faithful to our remaining tasks? I’ve seen people quit on their current ministry too soon and the ministry suffers. On the other hand, some pastors linger on in their old appointment too long and rob the new clergyperson of a chance to make new friends and dream new dreams. What are we? We’re “Tweeners.” We’re between here and heaven; this job and the next; one relationship and another – the already and the not yet!

How do we handle it? The story is told of two old miners who spent their lives looking for a supposed treasure in gold, a mother lode! They never found anything for years and became the laughingstocks of the town. Every week they came into town empty-handed. One week, however, they started finding nuggets. They were pulling chunks of gold hand-over-fist out of the walls of the shaft they were in when suddenly the ceiling started caving in.

One of the miners told the other, “We’ve got to get out of here! Come on! Leave the gold!” The other miner said, “Leave me right here. I’ve searched my whole life for the mother lode and I’ve finally found it. Leave me right here.” The other miner insisted that he let go of the gold nuggets and retreat, but the other miner said, “Just tell ‘em I died rich. Just tell ‘em I died rich.”

Is that our church’s refrain? We often hold on to our treasures, to the hopes of dreams come true or of past glories never to be repeated, and then take our last breath because we don’t have sense enough to know when to let go and move on to other opportunities. I’ve seen churches die rich with designated funds put in place eons ago for old dreams that could have been used for a related but God-sized dream for today. I’ve seen pastors stay too long in one place and coast their way into an inglorious future. What an epitaph – “He/She Stayed too Long!” John Wesley said about itinerancy: “If I should stay in one place as long as a year, I would preach myself asleep!”

So, here’s to finishing our ministry where we are with all of the vigor and creativity that we can, and having the sense to prepare for our next adventure. Life is full of risks. Staying in one place isn’t an option. We’re either moving forward or going backwards.

There’s a great little poem that sums it all up:

“There once lived a man who never risked, he never tried. He never laughed, he never prayed, he never cried. Then one day when he passed away, his insurance was denied. They said since he never really lived, then he never really died.”

Live for today and tomorrow, not one over the other. Live for God and both are taken care of!