I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment… I Cor. 1:10
St. Paul knew that worldly divisions and false teachings can both creep into a Christian congregation and destroy the unity we have by faith in Christ. When that happens, the immediate impulse is to separate into camps. That kind of disunity then leads to physical separation. But such separation is not God’s or St. Paul’s goal for a healthy congregation.
One of the great blessings of gathering for worship is that it forces us to focus on the eternal good we have in common rather than anything earthly that divides us. We see young, middle-aged, and elderly; single, married, and widowed; black, brown, and white; Republican, Democrat, and apolitical/other; people who seem to have it all together and people who struggle to make it through the day (and sometimes we guess wrong which are which). But we all receive the same blessings in Christ and are made a family.
The pandemic has caused most of us to participate in worship remotely. The ability to do that has blessed people tremendously. The gift of technology meant being stuck at home did not have to mean being cut off from God’s Word as proclaimed by our church family at St. Paul’s. The big stumbling block, of course, was how to receive communion remotely. We’ve hopefully overcome that hurdle for the time being by assuring our membership that we will bring communion to those who do not feel safe coming to church. But there is another stumbling-block to worshipping remotely that we might not even be aware of; worshipping at home allows one to withdraw into a “camp,” without even meaning to, safely unconfronted by the array of people God calls into His family here.
Selfishly, we miss our friends, of course, when we don’t get to see them on a Sunday. And that is a real hardship. But worshipping at home also provides the very dangerous, worldly benefit of allowing you not to see or think about the people in your church family you’re just as glad not to encounter in worship. Worshipping at home, the person with a MAGA hat out in the car is not confronted by the fact that the person he or she is singing with and in communion with has a RESIST hat out in the car, and vice versa. The one who thinks young people are misguided isn’t confronted by the faithful young person, and the young person who thinks old people just don’t care isn’t confronted by the caring elderly person. Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter are forced to realize their deeper unity when they worship together as baptized children of God. When they worship in their living room, though, they’re allowed to worship from within their own little mental/emotional/political shell.
All this is to say that unity has never been more important and never been more endangered. The temporary necessity of worshipping at home takes away one of the strongest forces for unity, which is worshipping together physically, and is happening when worldly divisions have never been more influential. My concern is that people are looking for ways to change to a new normal of worshipping remotely, and I think that new normal would be unhealthy for all of us.
Many things are beyond our control, of course, and each of us deals with a separate set of health risk factors relating to the pandemic. Those who are or who feel unsafe in worship should continue worshipping from home and receiving the gifts of grace through the proclaimed Word, and receiving communion periodically, if possible, via a pastoral home visit.
To those who are beginning to get out and about more now that the guidelines are loosening up, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to worship in person rather than remotely. If you are not at risk in public places where solid health guidelines are followed, make sure the church service is one of the places you physically come to rather than take in remotely. As St. Paul appealed to the Corinthians, I appeal to you—be a force for unity in the church family by being here if you are able. You will be blessed to be a blessing.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana