“Greet one another with a holy kiss,” Paul wrote.
It seemed like a good idea at the 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 share a holy kiss? Church leaders are having to figure this out, and they’re having to do it quickly.
Churches around the country have closed their doors, and pastors have been scrambling to find ways of being the church when our people can’t be in the building. On that first Sunday of quarantine many of my colleagues 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.
My pet project, 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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 find the readings for any given Sunday by clicking HERE (hint: click on the link under “Readings for the Coming Week”). You can use those readings at any time during that week.
- 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.
- Let someone read the Old Testament lesson, and if you like, spend a few moments talking about what “strikes” you in the passage.
- Let someone read the Epistle lesson, and do the same. Talk about words or images that “strike” you in some way.
- 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. You can find commentary on each of the lectionary readings by clicking HERE.
- Finally, take some time to listen. You can find great sermons for every Sunday of the liturgical year by clicking HERE. These sermons are in video format, which gives you the benefit of seeing as well as hearing great preaching. 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 twenty minutes discussing the passage you will find that the sermon rings bells it never would if you approached it “cold.”
- 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.
- 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 own 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.”
–Jim Somerville, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Richmond, VA,
and Co-Founder, A Sermon for Every Sunday.
PS: Please share this post with others who might benefit from it.
PPS: Thanks to our friends at the Vanderbilt Divinity School Library and at Working Preacher for the great resources they make available every week. Thanks to the terrific preachers at A Sermon for Every Sunday for making their sermons available to a global audience.