Church in a time of quarantine

March 18th, 2020
This article is featured in the Sustaining Worship issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

“Greet one another with a holy kiss,” Paul said. It was a beautiful idea in its time, but not in a time of global pandemic, when we are being asked to practice social distancing as a way of “flattening the curve.” So how do you “do” church when you can’t get together, when you can’t hug or shake hands or holy kiss? Church leaders are having to figure this out, and they’re having to do it quickly. Many of my colleagues in ministry called off church as usual last Sunday and tried preaching in empty sanctuaries while an associate held an iPhone and streamed the sermon through Facebook Live (with more or less success). It wasn’t church, but it was something.

A Sermon for Every Sunday was not created with a global pandemic in mind, but it could have been. One of our regular viewers pointed out last week that this resource might be the perfect solution for having “church” in this season of social distancing. I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and wondering how you would go about it. Maybe like this:

  1. If you’re at home with your spouse, family or significant other(s) begin by gathering around the table. If it’s just you maybe you could phone or FaceTime a friend to “join” you for worship. 
  2. Once you’re in place light a candle to symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a good way to signal that you are entering into sacred time, and the place where you were chatting and laughing just a moment ago has become a sacred place. 
  3. An opening prayer is also a good “marker” between whatever came before and what is about to happen. You could say something like, “Jesus, you promised that wherever two or three are gathered in your name, there you will be also. Here we are. We trust you to be here as well. Amen.” 
  4. The lectionary is a wonderful way to take Scripture seriously. It’s a plan for reading through most of the Bible in worship over a three year period. You can use those readings at any time during that week. 
  5. Let someone read the Psalm and spend a few moments in silent meditation, reflecting on the beauty, the power, and the images contained in those words. 
  6. Let someone read the Old Testament lesson, and if you like, spend a few moments talking about what “strikes” you in the passage. 
  7. Let someone read the Epistle lesson, and do the same. Talk about words or images that “strike” you in some way. 
  8. Let someone read the Gospel lesson, and spend most of your time here (just a suggestion). The other lectionary readings are often “keyed” to the Gospel lesson, which is typically the focal passage. Take some time to talk about it. Maybe one of you could read some commentary on the passage beforehand in order to answer some of the questions that come up. 
  9. Finally, take some time to listen. You can find great sermons for every Sunday of the liturgical year by clicking here. [Many of these sermons are also available at Ministry Matters in the weely This Sunday bin.] These sermons are in video format, which gives you the benefit of seeing as well as hearing some of America’s best preachers. If you are at a table, you can simply open your laptop or prop up your tablet at one end. If you have just spent 20 minutes discussing the passage you will find that the sermon rings bells it never would if you approached it “cold.” 
  10. Follow up with comments on what you’ve just heard or applications to your specific context and then enter into a time of prayer, asking for prayer requests from the group and praying for those specifically. 
  11. Blow out the candle

The whole experience should take about an hour, but of course you can adjust to your preferences. If you’d like to add some singing, and someone in your group has the ability to play an instrument or lead the singing, so much the better. Or you can use recorded music to set the mood before worship or during moments of reflection.

Again, if your church is streaming worship online you should participate (and give!), but if you don’t have other good options this one may be the perfect solution for “church in a time of quarantine.”

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