What Will The Church Look Like After Covid?
On March 13th of this year President Donald Trump declared a National Emergency. Six weeks have passed as I am writing this article. More than 810,000 confirmed cases of Covid have been confirmed, yet we still have little idea of the changes this pandemic will bring about. Some will be subtle while others may be profound. Our world is not the same as it was six weeks ago and we are not the same people either. Some anthropologists believe the Covid-19 pandemic may end up being a “pivotal event” in history, like the Irish potato famine of 1845-52. However, for the first time in history, a “pivotal event” includes virtually every human being on the planet.
Will the Church come out of the Covid experience with a new and heightened empathy for those who suffer? Could it be that we will come through this more connected to Christ’s sufferings than ever before?
Many people are struggling with feelings of isolation, cut off from normal relationships and activities. People are growing progressively more concerned for their financial security. Struggles with fear and anxiety are common, especially for the safety of loved ones. The healthy cannot visit those who are ill and suffering. Nor are they able to be with loved ones during their passing. Families cannot plan funerals, mourn and grieve in a normal way, or even gather together to lean on family and friends for support and comfort. Many are fearful of what will happen should they contract this disease. People are afraid, they are alone, and some are becoming increasingly desperate.
This pandemic is also having profound effects within the Church. In the past, most Christians’ primary expressions of their faith have been closely associated with a building and a group of people. It is in this setting they have derived benefits such as: support, encouragement, knowledge, a sense of security and safety, as well as sharing in the blessings of being connected to the work and efforts of the other members. During these weeks we have been prevented from involvement in most, if not all, of these activities. For the first time in history a majority of the Church was not able to gather to celebrate Easter, one of the two most important and meaningful days in the Church year. Many Christians were alone when they declared “He is risen, He is risen indeed.” The sum of these experiences has been very traumatizing for countless Christians.
I have had several conversations with pastors over the last few weeks regarding their congregations, both now and what they see for the future. The very good news is the Church is responding to this situation in amazing ways. People are thinking of their neighbors, offering a helping hand and a listening ear. Individuals are reaching out to other members of their church fellowship as well as to people in their community. Members of the Church are expressing their love and concern spontaneously and in ways that are both simple as well as profoundly meaningful. Congregations are using technology to reach their members and share the Gospel.
I hear people saying things like, “When things get back to normal” or “When this is over.” I truly believe that we are going to find ourselves in a “new normal”, both in our world and in the Church. Recently I heard someone say, “If we all don’t come out of this with a heightened level of empathy, I don’t have any idea what it will take.” Paul put it this way, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Phil 3:10) I have often wondered what Paul meant by sharing in Christ’s sufferings? This Covid-19 experience has caused me to consider this question in a new light. We know that Jesus did not suffer anything for His own sake. Everything He suffered was for the sake of others. In light of the present sufferings that surround us, I think we may be able to discover an answer to that question as well as a practical application of Paul’s desire.
As a counselor, I have come to believe that one of the greatest human needs is to know that someone cares (about us). Conversely, our greatest fear is to discover that no one cares. Through the cross God declares, “I care” to each and every one of us. His plan is to continue declaring “I care” through His Church. Will the Church come out of the Covid experience with a new and heightened empathy for those who suffer? Could it be that we will come through this more connected to Christ’s sufferings than ever before? He would be looking for lost and hurting people. He would be focused on loving and helping the hurting, the needy, the alone, the fearful, the anxious, the downtrodden. He would be considering the sufferings of others to be His own sufferings. He would be looking for ways to continue saying, “I care.”
I sincerely hope that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, His Church will experience a new and profound connection with His sufferings. I hope and pray that empathy, compassion, mercy, and active love for all mankind (those in the Body of Christ and those outside the Body) will continue to grow exponentially. Going forward, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Heb 10:24
Rev Donald Suiter