Tuesday, April 21, 2020

What will church life be like "post peak?"

When the day comes and some restrictions begin to be lifted, most likely on a local basis and not nationally, we will face what the "post-peak" and, eventually, "post-corona" life in the Church will be like.  It is not too early to begin to look at this, discuss what we may find, and determine whether these will be changes we can accept or changes we must adapt or changes we cannot condone.

So, what do you supposed life in the Church will look like either “post-peak” or "post-corona?"

Churches will undoubtedly find that hand sanitizer will become more predominant everywhere throughout the church building.  We may also find that some will continue to use face masks long after the CDC decides they are either optional or not necessary.  Neither of these will be much of an issue.

Social distancing will probably not go away, at least not in the next year to eighteen months.  We have learned to see strangers as threats and to look at even friends and family with some measure of fear.  So social distancing will begin to govern our long term lives in the space we leave in the pews, at the altar rails, and as people assemble and depart from the Divine Service.  This is not bad nor problematic but it will certainly be a source of some confusion as some continue the social distancing and others do not.

One thing I think we may have to forego is shaking hands.  Whether at the door or in the sharing of the peace, shaking hands has been a more Western version of the holy kiss of the East and if a form of sharing the peace changes, that should not be a problem for us.  Some (introverts) never liked this form of intimacy and others were never quite sure where those hands had been before shaking (not a bad question).  So we may have to reinvent ways to greet sans hands extended.  I watched in one video where in the sharing of the peace the people put their hand to their chest and made a slight bow to the other person.  That could work.  Fist bumps or elbow bumps somehow do not fit my idea of a good way to greet.  Maybe I am just slow to catch on.  But hand shaking will change, to be sure, and we may have different alternatives in different settings and regions.

While we may remember some of the ways we adjusted the Divine Service, I am not at all sure it will be easy or salutary to incorporate the exceptional changes into our normal liturgical life.  Scheduling worship or entrance by invitation or ticket are not likely to continue past the opening up of things.  I am happy about this.  Exceptional usages have not all been well thought out and many of them lack the integrity the Divine Service expects so I will be happy if we can return to a more normal liturgical practice.  That said, I fear that once out of the bottle, things will continue.  It will be up to our ecclesiastical supervisors to keep us from trying to retain drive by or distance communions.  One of the things I fear is that by placing the cloud of suspicion over the chalice, some will give it up entirely and this is a false conclusion and a betrayal of catholic practice.  Everyone from the CDC to other researchers have found the chalice at least as safe as individual cups and they remind us the problems lie with the hands. 

One novelty that might actually catch on are a change in the shape of the hosts -- from round hosts to oval or rectangular.  This would undoubtedly be easier in the distribution.  We will see if the entrepreneurial church suppliers come up with something that churches will purchase.

Those leading worship and making exceptions to the normal liturgical practice of the Church should have some kind of forum for us to see what has been done and whether it is faithful and beneficial.  It may be that some good ideas out there have suffered from not much exposure to the rest of us.  I would be interested in what others have done in response to the coronavirus.

How we handle those whose health makes them more vulnerable to infectious disease may be a subject worth looking into.  Sadly, isolation is hardest on those for whom it is more normal and not a temporary response to a temporary threat.  There will be more epidemics and we will remember the threat but I wonder if we will remember the needs of the elderly, those with serious underlying health issues, and those least able to weather the storm.

Will our sacramental lives change?  Will baptisms become private affairs and be absent from the view of the larger congregation?  Will weddings be smaller?  Will funerals be restricted in attendance?  Will confessions find new methods?  Will hospital visitations be restricted or access to nursing homes or assisted living facilities be narrowed?  Will catechism classes change format?  So many questions and so few answers.

I wonder if the acceptable level of risk has changed for many folks?  for most folks?  How will this impact future epidemics that may be smaller in scale and less threatening but still worrisome?   Will we find that the churches will empty fast whenever the news picks up on something and what will this mean to our life together, to the way we operate as congregations to the role of the clergy, and, yes, even to our financial viability?

Then there is the elephant in the room.  What about the way the Church has largely abdicated its role and leadership to governmental agency or political power?  I have been especially saddened by the way our national and district leaders have presumed the churches will have to shut down rather than try to find creative ways to remain open while respecting medical advice and CDC restriction.  I have been appalled by the way the Roman Catholic and Orthodox bishops have simply given up Easter without a fight to find creative ways to retain the liturgical life of Holy Week and Easter except by video.  I hope that this is reviewed and that our leaders accept some measure of responsibility for failing to support those who tried not to shutter the doors and put out the closed sign.  I hope that our people challenge them when we get to the time appropriate for some self-examination.


Carl Vehse said...

"What about the way the Church has largely abdicated its role and leadership to governmental agency or political power?"

It's more of an issue of whether governmental representatives and agencies can arbitrarily and for an unspecified time remove the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, including the right of the people peaceably to assemble for such purpose.

And that issue should be raised in a massive class action federal lawsuit by U.S. Church bodies against all state governors and agencies who removed that First Amendment (as well as the Fourteenth Amendment) right.

Anonymous said...

“The peace of the Lord be with you all.”
“And also with you.”
Move on.

Any properly trained Lutheran knows that use of the chalice is not of the essence of the sacrament.
Just like what type of bread we use. We’re not re-enacting a play.

Lutheran verbiage correctly refers to the blessed bread and wine as “elements,” not hosts.
“Host” is from the Latin “hostia,” or sacrificial victim. Why use Roman theological terminology to describe the Lutheran Sacrament?

Rectangular “hosts” will not catch on.

What type of forum do you imagine? “Well, ja, we livestream the service.”

The Church did not abdicate its role. The Church realizes that we live, and are given saving faith through the Holy Spirit, by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Not the number of times we go to church and receive the Sacrament.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that many congregations will continue to record and broadcast their services. We have become accustomed "to attending" church services from home and some people, for various reasons, will prefer to continue that way. Therefore, in-person attendance at church services will decrease. It appears that younger people prefer electronic church services.