Church fellowship transcends isolation
By Tianna Haas | International in international
Gathering together in person has long been the very lifeblood of Christ’s church. But because of the coronavirus, large group meetings have disbanded.
Local churches are pivotal ministry partners for SIM and our workers. And they’ve risen to the occasion by turning to alternative methods to fulfil the charge of Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Countless churches have leaned on technology to engage with members and extend spiritual guidance. Many leaders are taking advantage of online streaming capabilities to share live sermons, worship and prayer.
Before the lockdown, the church of SIM France worker Vincent Wastable had digital resources such as a blog and audio recordings. Now, they’ve moved services to a live YouTube channel. He said: “The vision now is … to enable assembly to live alongside each other in brotherhood.”
Other groups of believers have come together for Bible study over video calling platforms, including Zoom and Skype. Although these video call Bible studies are new to many, SIM Canada worker Youngdo Kang had set up a group on Zoom just before the pandemic unfolded.
Many of the participants were spread throughout the Greater Toronto area. Now that social distancing is required, their Bible study has already conquered the learning curve. Youngdo hopes their regular online discussions will inspire neighbourly care in the daily life of the Bible study members.
He said: “I want to move these guys to be about not just meeting on Sundays for fellowship. I want to see how I can move them to be effective in loving their neighbour, to see who around them needs help. I want to let them know this is how you can be equipped to help a relative or a friend. I think Christ calls us all to be a light and a blessing to other people.”
"I think Christ calls us all to be a light and a blessing to other people," said Youngdo.
Youngdo, like others, has imagined the promising potential for internet-based fellowship. He said: “I’m kind of hoping it grows. Because we’re online, it could go international.”
Still others have turned to WhatsApp to exhort their spiritual brothers and sisters. SIM worker Daniela Marx’s church in Peru is using WhatsApp to send short devotionals each day. She said: “Today’s topic was ‘God is always in control.’ The devotional topics have related to the current situation, since people are dealing with fear …”
Daniela’s church has considered how to care for the few elderly members they have, and since WhatsApp is such a widely used form of communication in Peru, they’ve chosen to minister to seniors through the app.
However, many contexts lack the resources to meet virtually. SIM worker Crystal Rendel’s church in Niger has suspended their services and invited their congregation to respectfully observe the government’s instruction. She said: “They are encouraging people to do a church service at home and fast and pray for the week [of March 19th].”
COVID-19 has also interrupted dearly loved sacraments, but one church, early on in the pandemic before government guidelines reduced group sizes, held communion with stringent precautions. Hokushin Calvary Church in Japan, where SIM worker John Houlette attends, made communion as safe as possible. John said: “They decided to have people stand next to the deacons giving out the elements to sanitize people’s hands before they would partake. We lined up and came forward to receive the bread, sat down and partook. Then we lined up again to receive grape juice.”
Hokushin Calvary has been accustomed to risk assessment after weathering enormous misfortune. They meet in Fukushima City, only 50 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor, which imploded in 2011 after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami.
In light of their experience with disaster, the leaders of Hokushin Calvary cancelled outreach events and communal meals and shortened their worship services. They met in person while it was possible, and now, they’re attempting to set up a live streamed service in order to safely engage and equip their congregation.
John said: “The Lord's Supper this month was a deeply poignant metaphor of the dynamics of the gospel and how God can replenish a languishing soul. In Japanese, the word for languishing is used for things that wither: flowers and dreams. In Christ, we are satisfied and replenished; our lives can blossom and dreams can be realised ... This virus cannot destroy our fellowship with the Lord, his work on the cross and the resurrection."
John said: "This virus cannot destroy our fellowship with the Lord, his work on the cross and the resurrection."
Isolation is no match for the Body of Christ, which the Lord has empowered to glorify him in unity. Jesus followers throughout the nations are finding unique and relevant ways to connect and grow in community during this unprecedented time. Still, church families look forward to the day when they can reunite and close the six-foot gap.
• the Lord to put an end to the coronavirus.
• God to heal the sick, protect healthcare workers, comfort the grieving and draw near to the isolated.
• pastors and elders to shepherd their churches with discernment and consideration.
• churches to obtain the resources they need to connect and discover creative ways to uplift each other from a safe distance.