• Malynda Hale

Doors are closed, but the church is open.

I remember when I walked away from church. It lasted about a year and half.

I was transitioning from New York to Chicago to be with my husband, and my last church experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like I didn’t really need church, but if I found the right faith community I would eventually find my way back.

During my time away, the one thing I never left—or that never left me, rather—was my faith, my relationship with God and my love for worship. While I missed the community aspect of church and having relationships with people who all believed in the same creator I did, I knew that church didn’t have to mean being in a building with hundreds of people. Church was what I made it. Often on Sundays I would read from a devotional book I’ve had since high school, pray and belt out worship music. My values, beliefs and love for Christ never wavered. I finally found an incredible church community in Chicago that I was so sad to leave when my husband and I moved away, but it reaffirmed my stance on what church should be: a loving community of people who are truly seeking to live out Christ’s words.

When I moved back to Los Angeles I feared I would never find that again. I feared never having a community that accepted everyone for who they were. I feared never finding a community that sought to truly love their neighbors as they love themselves. I feared never being able to participate in a corporate worship setting that once a week would bring me much needed joy and solace.

But here I am now, three years into being the worship leader at a church that stands by so many things I believe in, not the least of which is their love and devotion for the people in their community.

As it stands, we are living through a time of inconvenience. We are living through a time of uncertainty and pain. Peoples’ lives and mental health are at risk, and to be honest none of us knows how much longer we can live like this. I get it. In times like this you want to be around loved ones and friends. So naturally if church doors announce they are reopening, why wouldn’t you want to flock to an environment that you’ve grown accustomed to that brings you happiness? Being able to once again smile at church door greeters, raise hands while you worship and take in a much needed word from your pastor—all of this sounds appealing, but at what cost? Is it worth risking the lives of others and yourself to be in a building for church even though God and the church are everywhere?

As someone who has long identified herself as a Christian, I’ve always thought it was our duty to care for others the way Jesus did. And sometimes that means putting others’ needs before our own.

Many churches around the nation are aching to reopen during this pandemic. However, I think the way church is being offered at the moment is an incredible opportunity to minister to people in an unconventional way. I mean, that’s what Jesus would do, right?

I, too, fall into the category of people who miss the weekly engagement. To put it simply, it sucks. I miss leading worship, I miss hugging people and laughing. I hate that I haven’t stepped foot into my church building in three months. But I also know that I care about the people of my community more than I need to be on a stage leading music. I know that I care about my community of people more than I need to be some place other than my home. Bottom line is, if we as a church are meant to be there for our people, doesn't that include keeping them safe? Does that not include ensuring that their health isn’t compromised because we couldn’t wait a little while longer? People look to their church communities—and even more so to their pastors—for hope, advice and answers. How irresponsible would it be for anyone in a position of leadership to allow a large group of people to congregate when they don’t fully know that it’s safe? Who then would be to blame?

I fully believe that in every situation there is a lesson. I’ve talked before about how we must listen during this time and that it’s okay to be still, but perhaps the lesson here is that church itself needs to adjust how it functions. Church needs to learn to adapt. Perhaps some churches need to learn compassion over convenience. And maybe this lesson in patience will show us what the church really is.

Has it ever crossed anyone’s mind that being able to have virtual church now allows MORE people to be part of a community? Think of people who may not be able to make it to church on Sundays for whatever circumstances but now are able to. Instead of focusing on not being able to physically walk into a building, why not focus on what being a church really means. And while the argument can be made that God has called us not to fear and to trust Him, why does that argument only work when it agrees with what you want? How are we so sure God is not testing us to see how loyal and faithful we are to him without a building to go to on Sunday?

Being a person of faith isn’t a once a week thing. If you truly believe God will protect you, it doesn’t matter where you are. But why not take the extra precautions to ensure that protection? Being in a building for church does not make you any safer than being in your bedroom, nor does it make your faith any greater. Perhaps we as a people need to learn to be the church without physically being inside of one. And maybe, if we claim to truly trust God and His will, then perhaps His will is for you to stay home for your own safety and for the safety of others.

I sympathize with the notion that we shouldn’t let fear dictate our lives, but by hitting pause on in-person church services and wearing masks in public, we aren’t. Rather, we are taking appropriate and sensible precautions amid a global pandemic. It’s no different than putting on our seatbelts, or locking your front door at night. Our trust in God should be unaffected by the steps we take to keep ourselves safe. Our faith should endure no matter what. After all trusting in God and simply being smart are not mutually exclusive.

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