Here we are in the midst of summer, wondering how we will hold on to folks when summer fun calls. Of course, COVID-19 might have something to say about what and where and when we can gather, even out in the wilderness of the great land of ours. But that might make the urge to get out and go even stronger. So, how can we ensure that folks will include worship in their busy summer schedules? By making it as accessible as possible. Remember during the quarantine? How you bent over backward to find ways to connect people? Maybe you livestreamed your services; maybe you set up online Bible studies; maybe you had email chains, or even letter-writing campaigns? Whatever you did then, you should be doing now.
One of the results of the various means of reaching out during the “safer-at-home” period is an extended reach for churches and other organizations. Many churches were able to reach more people through their online presence than during in-house worship. Some of those folks might still be watching and wanting some sort of connection. So, even when you can be face-to-face with the folks who gather week by week, don’t forget those who may be a part of your extended “parish.” The added benefit is that when members of the congregation are traveling, it will be easy for them to plug in and “be present,” even when they are away. “Nothing shall separate us.” Physical presence is only part of the body that we are—only a part of what keeps us connected.
So, what do we celebrate in this series? Connection! Nothing shall separate us, remember? So, this series is about how we experienced the closeness of God in our apartness. Find individuals and families who can tell their stories of experiencing God during the quarantine. Maybe you feel like you’ve told all those stories, but ask again. Ask who wants to share and find new voices and new stories. Or find some stories of joining together again, overcoming the fear and the distance to feel gathered up into the fellowship of the body again or for the first time. Find an online voice, someone who found you not on the street where you live, but through the computer where you spoke into the airwaves. Even now, as you observe social distancing in the sanctuary, as your greeting habits have changed, as your offering collection has transformed, what is it about your relationship with God that speaks loudly of connection?
Remember to start first with our relationship with God; it will naturally spill over into our other relationships. But we’re setting our minds on staying close to God, who has promised to stay close to us and promised that nothing will separate us; and we can lean into that promise. Our songs this week are about the decision to follow, about the hand that holds us as we do, and about the joy of being in the Lord. Songs such as “I am Thine, O Lord” (United Methodist Hymnal, 419), “I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord” (United Methodist Hymnal, 617), and “You Are Mine” (The Faith We Sing, 2218) speak to us of this choosing and this being claimed.
We are in our green period, this Ordinary Time summer cycle. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enhance the space with examples of colors from across the summer spectrum. Many spiritual leaders have expressed the value of finding God in a garden, so bring in examples of gardens, flowers, even produce of various kinds. Let it be a community garden. Plan a virtual tour of the grounds around the church, if you can, or invite members to video a walk through their own spaces. Use these videos for the online community or show them during gathering time or prayer time during worship in the sanctuary.
The goal is to remind everyone that the community is bigger than what you can see in the sanctuary. Connection is more than the faces around them; it is the presence of the virtual community, live or delayed that represents the ever-present God who calls us together as one. Nothing shall separate us.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.