Stop me if you’ve heard this one. (OK, you can’t really stop me, but you can skip the next few paragraphs if you’ve a mind to!)
There was a flood in a certain town, and a man who had ignored all the evacuation warnings ended up stuck on his rooftop. He was praying to God for help. Soon a man in a rowboat came by, and he shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded man shouted back, “No, it’s OK. I’m praying to God. He’s going to save me.” So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” Again, the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God. He’s going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on.
The flood waters rose higher, and the man climbed to the peak of the roof. A helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab the rope; I’ll pull you to safety.” Again, the stranded man replied, “No thanks. I’m praying to God. He’s going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
The water rose even higher, and the man drowned. He went to heaven. When he finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, he exclaimed, “What happened, God? I had faith but you didn’t save me. You let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
God looked at him sadly, and said, “Who do you think sent the rowboat and the motorboat and the helicopter. What more did you expect?”
Last weekend, several churches in the region opened again for worship. All across the USA, fueled by the abysmal and awful leadership of the Trump administration, churches are opening as well, despite the warning of doctors and scientists that it will feed the virus.
Christ Church Anglican did not open and we will not for some time. I dearly wish we could. It’s been over two months, and not being able to gather together has been very difficult for us all. I understand the impulse to open as quickly as possible, and to enjoy being together.
But it’s too soon. Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Chief Medical Officer, has said that we can gather in groups no larger than 50 as long as we maintain physical distancing. However, she has also indicated that there is a danger when groups of this size gather in a poorly ventilated indoor space. It would be better to gather outside. Furthermore, she also said that best practices would be to sanitize and disinfect the room after each gathering.
As I mentioned, Christ Church will not be opening any time soon. Many of our people, including myself, are among the vulnerable population. Our building can’t accommodate 50 people with the required distancing and the proper ventilation. We don’t have the resources to thoroughly sanitize the building after each gathering. The risk factors are simply too great.
Furthermore, it’s been shown that singing is one of the riskiest behaviours in spreading the virus, and singing is the lifeblood of worship.
We’ve heard the stories of churches which have opened too soon and the people paid the price. A few weeks ago, the news featured a cautionary tale about a church in Calgary which gathered in early March, just before the pandemic hit. They did everything right, and yet 21 out of 41 people contracted the virus, and two have died.
Now, I agree with Trump, who said that churches and synagogues and mosques are essential places which provide essential services. That is to say, I agree with the words, but I completely disagree with what he means.
People of faith have always known that houses of worship are essential. But let’s be clear. The church is not the building. The church is the community of people who normally gather in that building and live out their faith in the world. There is a huge difference between “going to church” and “being the church”.
That’s what makes a church essential. Our highest and holiest calling is to be the church, and we can do that in this time of pandemic without going to church. In times like this, people of God have always reached out to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, working to free the captives and the oppressed, and being good news for the poor (see Luke 4: 18–19). We reach out to “love our neighbours as ourselves” and as we do so, we love God with all that we are.
The main reason I’m talking about this is because I had a conversation about this with someone who asked me, “Don’t you trust God to keep you safe?”
I have two answers to that question.
The first is “No. I don’t trust God the way she means it.” God is not a helicopter parent, who hovers over and directs every aspect of a child’s life. Many of us have been taught in one way or another that the Bible is an instructional manual for life, and that God hovers over us to make sure we stick to it.
But that’s not the God in whom I believe. That’s not the God I trust. Rather, I trust God who entrusts me with the ability to grow and mature and make wise decisions for myself. I am not a child who needs to be continually monitored. Rather, I trust a God who accompanies me through all of life as I make decisions, some of them wise and some of them foolish.
The second answer is “Yes, I trust God.” Who do you think sent us Dr. Bonnie Henry and all the other medical officers and scientists? Who do you think sent us leaders who are trying to make wise decisions in very difficult times? Who do you think made us capable of making right choices … in which we go slowly, and safely, and small?
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook