Few things have brought forth more differing opinions than COVID-19, and within the church we see no exception. As we have gone into sheltering mode, our creativity and resources have been challenged as we have sought to worship, study and minister together in ways many of us had not imagined before.
Here in South Carolina some restrictions are being eased, presenting more options as to where we can go and what we can do. I was involved in a recent group conversation that revealed that coming back together may present as many, or more, challenges than being isolated. Questions of how we gradually return to our normal practices of worship, such as the sacrament of communion, can engender strong opinions on the part of some. These are legitimate and understandable. We all know that how we handle differences of opinion in the Body of Christ can be crucial to our life together, especially in times of uncertainty like these.
At All Saints Spartanburg, as in churches all over the country, our goal has been to show ourselves to be good cooperative citizens and show care and concern, not only for our congregation, but for the community at large. We are blessed to have a Church Council that acts wisely, responsibly and safely, and consistently seeks God’s wisdom in its decisions. We are also blessed to have a congregation that consistently approaches one another in the grace and love of Christ.
All that said, there is still the responsibility of ministering to one another in the context of differing and sometimes strong opinions. As in all churches, there are those who are hesitant and anxious about seeking to get back to normal too quickly. There are others who want to get back to normal right away. As time goes on and all of us grow wearier of the circumstances, unless we are alert to it, we can yield to the temptation to be judgmental in our attitudes.
I was recently studying Romans 14 and 15, and while the specific issues are very different, as in what foods to eat and what special days to observe, I think the attitudes that Paul presents can be very instructive. We are called to “pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (14:19). It also says, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (15:2). In addition, we are reminded in Galatians 6:2 to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
We all struggle with being anxious to some extent, some more than others. Having been raised in a household that would have changed the words of Philippians 4:6 to read, “Be anxious for everything,” I can certainly relate to the struggle. There is no more important time for the Body of Christ to speak words of encouragement, comfort, unity and peace to one another, as we seek to meet the needs of one another, no matter what they are.
With so many voices that we hear every day in the media speaking fear, there is also no more important time to remind ourselves and each other of the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Mike+ Smith is Assistant Rector of All Saints Spartanburg. He and his wife, Vandy, live in the mighty metropolis of Cowpens, with all the kids and grandkids living close by.