Sunday, May 3, 2020
What kind of worship. . .
According to Liberty Counsel, the government of Kansas City, MO, seems intent upon requiring churches to submit a list of members – with names, addresses and phone numbers – for tracking and surveillance purposes. Anyone who does not give this information is to be refused entrance to the church! Rome is wondering if anyone but the priest should commune. Some in Rome are saying baptismal water must be changed between baptisms even if multiple baptisms occur in the same service. Some voices are saying live music should be discouraged. Others, even sacramental churches, are talking drive in services. Many are saying masks should be standard wear for worship -- perhaps for a year or more. Most are saying that pews should be marked off to keep to physical distancing. Almost all liturgical churches are questioning or have abandoned the use of the chalice. Many are telling pastors to sanitize between every communicant. Already some political leaders have presumed to tell sacramental churches to adopt the hermetically sealed juice and a cracker used by most Protestants. And the list goes on. . .
Some of these things are goofy, some are foolish, some are an affront to the very nature of worship. But the question remains -- will the churches allow the government to decide what worship will look like as the churches reopen? Will we defer to the liturgical leadership of political and medical voices? Will we accept worship in which our historic practices are either compromised or precluded? How far do we go to be good citizens and what are we willing to surrender in order to open our doors?
As the days unfold it is clear that social isolation may have reduced the spread of the corona virus and flattened the curve but at a cost. More and more voices are suggesting that the social distancing and some form of isolation will continue for many more months and perhaps years and even then will not prevent a recurrence of the threat we have been facing. It is not and will not be a matter that come summer things will be back to normal and we will have moved on. Our political and medical authorities have chosen a path that will have lasting consequences for our people and, for the concern of this blog, for the churches. We will continue to unpack this for days and weeks and months and years to come. In the meantime, churches will suffer not only from the viral pandemic but from the way they were treated by those in charge of the government's response.
On the one hand it is clear that looking at the guidelines given to churches betrays an abysmal lack of understanding about the churches these guidelines are intended to help. Look at the demographics of most congregations and then try to reconcile that with the request from those authorities to discourage those over 65, those with compromised medical condition, and those with disability from attending worship. Who will be left to fill the pews in many of these congregations? Who is hurting from the isolation and who desires the fellowship of God's Word and Table the most? Who is being told from source after source to stay home and wait until it is safe (and when will that be)?
I agree that this threat was real and the corona virus had the potential (still has) of killing many. But I am not at all sure that the course of action chosen to respond to this threat is one that we can afford. The surrender of economic stability, yielding our freedoms so willingly, and disregarding the rights for which we fought in blood and protected in law -- these two are costs to be paid. More and more voices are suggesting that the vaccine and herd immunity that are our real protections are beyond our foreseeable future (except in places like Sweden). If we have chosen wrongly, it will not be simply the cost in dollars to our national debt or the price paid in a broken economy we have to worry about. And in the end, in the statistics of history, will the corona virus be judged worse than the influenza and pneumonia deaths we suffer on nearly an annual basis?
What kind of worship will the future hold for us? What kind of society will come out of this panic? These two questions are not unrelated. The government has chosen to see churches are enemies of their path and it is far too late to imagine how it might have been if the churches had been sought as partners in the pursuit of both protecting our populace and helping us to endure from our isolation stronger instead of weaker in the face of this viral threat.