I read an article this morning in the New York Times with the headline, A Sunday without Church: In Crisis, a Nations Asks, What is Community? Great question. Is it possible to be in community and still adhere to social distancing?

At Asbury, we have been talking about broadcasting Sunday worship for more than a year. But the cost and complexity felt out of reach unless we did just what we did this past Sunday. Karl used his touchpad with its built-in camera and microphone to go live on Facebook. Low tech, by today’s standards, but a few people participated in worship from the safety keeping the maximum distance for social distancing.

According to the article cited above, we were not alone. Churches across the county utilized a variety of techniques to allow their worshiping community to stay home. But I have to admit that as a pastor, I felt a little shaky advising people to “stay home” on Sunday after spending the past decade saying the opposite. Perhaps I should add, “Just don’t make it a habit.”

But I also know that habits come quickly. Some sources say three times is the turning point. Does this mean that if we do this for three Sundays in a row? Let’s cross that bridge later.

The past several days have been an emotional roller coaster. I lost track of how many press releases I’ve read, along with texts, email messages, Facebook messages, videos, news stories, and more. I changed our press release numerous times from the first draft to the current version posted on our doors and website.

Ultimately, our decision for how we did worship this past Sunday came out of prayer, advice from healthcare professionals, clergy, and our Bishop. But Asbury is more than a Sunday event. The catch-phrase we use to describe our purpose is “connecting people.” We are community organizers, community builders, community developers. We are a community hub.

Our building was buzzing on Saturday with volunteers from Make Food, not Bombs serving lunch, to our winter youth farming program. I anticipate that our Help Center will be open on Tuesday, and our volunteers and staff don’t want to stop serving our community. And our community doesn’t want us to stop.

But worship is optional. It is not a critical service. Right? No, wrong. Worship is the entree, not the side dish. The question I wrestled with was the intersection of social distancing and community worship. We did not and will not cancel worship. We will, however, offer creative ways to worship together. Together, we can be more connected than ever.

This article is about building, holding onto, and expanding a community of worshippers during a time where social distancing is crucial to saving lives. And my initial focus is on what does our community need at this time? And the answer is simple — we need a community. We need each other more than ever.

There is clearly panic taking place. Cyndi texted me several pictures the other day during her trip to Meijer to pick up a few necessary items. Empty shelves. Panic comes out of fear. And fear is one of our strongest motivations, my dad called these excuses, for harmful behavior. When we focus mostly on ourselves, community breaks down.

Most of us, when our child is afraid, we don’t comfort them from a distance of six feet. Instead, we hold them close. Human touch remains an essential part of communicating love. There is something about a hug that an elbow bump doesn’t capture.

Cyndi and I are both huggers. While we respect the wishes of people who aren’t, we give and receive comfort through personal contact. So the other day, when Cyndi shared with me how difficult this is proving to be when a person is in distress, I didn’t know what to say. This situation is challenging.

But humans can be adaptable even though we adapt at varying rates of acceptance. We can adjust to social distancing. We can be creative about how we get by. We can offer an “I owe you a hug.” Such promises serve as a reminder that we anticipate this pandemic to end soon. Meanwhile, we can stay connected by other means.

And we can do what humans, inspired by a loving God, have done throughout history. We can do more than make the best of it. We can use this setback to become stronger, more creative, and ultimately more connected than before. We can become an even stronger community in a matter of days and weeks.

If we don’t know how to stay connected with you, I pray that you will help us rectify this. You can communicate with us on our homepage at FlintAsbury.org. Notice the check-box for prayer requests. We don’t give your emails to anyone else, and we won’t pester you with emails. And, if we ever do, tell us to stop.

A reminder that we publish a weekly newsletter called the Circuit Rider. You can request this publication by email either by sending a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you sent a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

I invite you to join us for Sunday worship through Facebook live at 10:30 am. As more options become available, we will keep you informed. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

Pastor Tommy

Recommended books and citations

1 Elizabeth Dias, “A Sunday without Church: In Crisis, a Nations Asks, ‘What is Community?’” © New York Times, March 15, 2020.