As I write this, it’s been about 2 weeks since the country went into Phase 2 of the COVID-19 opening up. It’s heart-warming to watch families, friends and lovers meet face to face again after being kept apart for about 2 months. Fellowship groups are finally able to meet in groups of 5.
The Church has adapted quite well — all thanks and praise be to God!
Church is however still very much online, given the “DID” restrictions on Density, Intensity, Duration. Though 50 of us can gather at any one time, we’ve got to be at least 1-metre apart. Small groups are maxed out at 5. There’s no mingling before or after services, no singing, no food. Spaces also need to be ventilated and sanitised between each use. While Phase 2 means it’s possible to carry out Christian ministry in person, it would still be quite difficult to carry out our usual practices meaningfully: can’t pray out loud together, can’t sing, can’t partake of Holy Communion. So, Church is still very much digital.
Speaking about going digital, the Church has adapted quite well to it — and all praise and thanks be to God! New skillsets were needed, and God in His sovereignty planted people with the necessary know-how to help take the Church digital. Even very small churches (<100 people) and very traditional churches (tendency to be skeptical of technology and new things) soon caught up.
Needless to say, each local church has their own way of doing it, driven by the desire to minister to their flock. Some have set up teams to project-manage the recording and video/sound stitching process, some rely on 2-3 individuals to carry each service, and some have a skeletal band with backup singers beaming in. Fellowship groups have taken to Zoom in droves for bible studies, shared prayer, lunch mukbangs, and themed food gatherings online (e.g. all eat the same cup noodles… “fast” food).
Our motivations: Ministering to the flock, and perhaps an unconscious desire for normalcy
But I wonder: Is the rush to go digital also driven by an unconscious desire for normalcy?
At the start of the pandemic, that was one of the things that drove me to push for change, and for the church leadership to take COVID-19 seriously by preparing the logistics and congregation to go digital. This was before the virus was declared a pandemic, so I can understand the leadership’s preference for slow deliberation. I’ll admit that it was frustrating, with such a fluid situation. By the time the taskforce caught up to yesterday’s new measures, new ones announced today changed the equation. But soon, by the grace of God, we managed to catch up.
Now, 2 months on I wonder if we are too hungry for normalcy. In the rush to go digital and achieve business as usual, has the Church paused to reflect, examine, grief?
In the time when workplaces and schools were busy preparing for a “new normal”, perhaps the Church should be even more deliberate about holding space for its people to make sense of what is going on. To be fair, many churches are aware of the mental and emotional impact from being forced to stay home, and leaders and members have been reaching out to help one another process those thoughts, emotions, and remind each other to keep our eyes on Jesus. Some churches are however less comfortable dealing with emotions or holding space for questions.
Regardless of how comfortable our churches are with dealing with emotions, the Bible is pretty clear that it’s OK to grieve.
Taking the time to grieve for lives lost, and normalcy lost
Grieving is a God-given time, and David models for us what that looks like in Psalm 13. (Rephrasing the lessons I got from an online sermon.) It’s just 6 verses, but I’ve found it very helpful to process my own thoughts and emotions.
Stage 1: Despair. David begins with an anguished call, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”. The longstanding and deep anguish he feels has led him to feel defeated and wonder where God is (Psalm 13:1-2). The Psalm is purposely vague about what exactly David is despairing about, which allows this to be a principle for us.
It is not wrong for the Christian to feel discouraged, to grief, or to despair.
Takeaway: It is not wrong for the Christian to feel discouraged, to grief, or to despair.
Stage 2: Praying. Interestingly, David’s despair drives him to God, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God”. And oh how he prays (Psalm 13:3-4)! It’s clear that he still regards God highly, despite feeling alone and abandoned. This is counter-cultural to societal norms, because if a senior at work or school has turned their face away from us, common wisdom is to protect ourselves and limit the fallout from this abandonment. But that’s not what David does with God.
Takeaway: We can still turn to God in times of grieving and despair. He won’t turn us away.
Stage 3: Trusting. David ends on a note of confidence, “I have trusted in your steadfast love.. I will sing to the LORD” (Psalm 13:5-6). It’s a surprising response for someone so depressed, especially since the problem hasn’t been resolved yet. But I find that reassuring, because just as David child of God could trust in God, I too can trust in His love, His salvation (deliverance), and His mercy. Even in the darkest of times, I can trust in who God is.
Takeaway: We can trust in who God is — and that will carry us through.
There’s still no vaccine, and there are fears of a “second wave”. With nearly every country coming out of lockdown, it’s a real worry that the situation may get out of control again. So it’s a very uneasy sense of relief, a restless sleep in some sense. But through this all, let us pause, face our fears and ask our questions. Let us slow our pace. Let us take all these to God in prayer.
In these times, let us lean on our fellowship groups to support one another. But if our church friends are not able to, perhaps because they’re too busy, or not comfortable dealing with messy emotions, please don’t ditch them. (True confession: I wanted to ditch mine, but after experiencing how God sent other Christians to minister to me, I repented.) Instead, hold space for them.
Above all, trust who God is because in the darkest times, that is our one constant that will never change. Friends may shun us, family may leave us, but God won’t — even if it seems like He has. Cling to the unchanging, all powerful, all loving, all merciful, all holy one, because that is one of life’s best comforts.