Near the end of the book Little Women, the March family celebrates a joyful reunion after much separation and heartache. Laughter, tarts, hot biscuits, and a wedding to discuss. The young and old rejoice in being together once again in the Orchard House.
But our heroine Jo March—no stranger to restlessness—feels an ache amidst the merriment. Much has changed since they had last gathered.
“She stood a minute looking at the party a sudden sense of loneliness came over her so strongly that she looked about her with dim eyes, as if to find something to lean upon, for even Teddy had deserted her” (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott).
When We’re Back Together at Church
Some of us will feel lonely like this when we return to church after the pandemic. The first service will be filled with smiles, hugs, and, “How have you been? Tell me everything that happened to you.”
But then, as the weeks go by, we’ll feel restless and still isolated.
We’ll look for something to lean upon and remember back to some of the things we liked about quarantine. The butter braids and coffee we consumed while watching our sermon from the couch. The safety our homes provided, without any shallow small talk, germs, or the risk of offending anyone. Church set-up is a lot of work and just getting out the door can be chaotic.
We’ll remember how much we don’t have in common with this random group of people who meet together each week.
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At my church, I’ve seen both Maseratis and minivans in our parking lot. We have different backgrounds, music preferences, and accents. We don’t have a dress code, and at a potluck, I’ve eaten everything from curry to quinoa. Our passions are on a wide spectrum, and we may differ in views on doctrine, lifestyle, or politics.
We might wonder: Should I search for a new community, one that makes me feel more like I belong?
We’ll need to be reminded our diversities aren’t what we celebrated before or now. We cherish our oneness in Christ. Our differences bring harmony to the melody.
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).
Dear church, we will remember what we longed for in social distancing days—a piece of Heaven. When we return to our brick and mortar sanctuaries, we’ll face the reminder that it’s still not Heaven here.
It won’t be picture perfect like we may have imagined from our couches. And it still doesn’t make sense to the world that we are a family.
You and I will need to press in to create community more than ever. We’ll need a graceful love.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community,” (Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Friends, It Might Be Awkward
If you were already just going through the motions of church before this pandemic hit, or you were just getting acquainted with people, you’ll feel the lost ground and stolen time.
When we gather again, it may be like squinting after all the lights flip on after watching a movie in a dark basement. Millennials—especially we introverted millennials—will feel like we just emerged from something like an Instagram culture into a Google search.
It might be disorientating and awkward.
A steady diet of digital socializing (though convenient and needed) may alter our view of reality. But let’s not forget we are called to meet physically with the body (Hebrews 10:25).
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Tony Reinke in his book refers to local-church awkwardness as a “precious means to reshape us.” He writes:
“We gather to be seen, to feel awkward, and perhaps to feel a little unheard and underappreciated, all on purpose. In obedience to the biblical command not to forsake meeting together, we each come as one small piece, one individual member, one body part, in order to find purpose, life, and value in union with the rest of the living body of Christ. This feeling of awkwardness, this leaving the safety of our online friendships, this mingling with people we don’t know or understand in our local churches is incredibly valuable for our souls” (12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, Tony Reinke).
Find Something To Lean Upon
What can we do NOW so we can jump back into loving and serving the broken church we have, not the perfect community we dream of? How can we guard against false expectations?
I don’t have the answer. I’ve never taken a break from physical church like this. But have you ever felt a little out of it when you’ve been on just a two-week trip? Me too. And I know how easy it is to blend into the background when you haven’t committed to serve in any way.
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Here are my ideas of how we can prepare for the day we can go back to church:
Press in when you want to withdraw. Pray for our adjustment. Batten down the hatches against self-centeredness. Expect the members in the rows next to you will probably feel much like you do. Lean upon Christ—ultimately, He is the only One who can fulfill us in these times; without Him, any gathering will be empty.
Our Lord died for this random group of people made one.
That’s how any of us belong—because we were purchased with His blood, and now we’re His bride. We will have fellowship together, but He’ll do the satisfying of our hungry souls. And it is a joyful privilege and grace to worship side by side with the other members, a taste of what we’ll do forever in Glory.
Christ is the Chief Cornerstone of the building to lean upon through this season and the next. He meets us with His love, and it spills over so we can care for our church community in these days. He knows what we’ve been through, and He’ll keep reshaping us as we dig in to a deeper commitment to our local churches again.
Dear church, I look forward to being together again SOON, Lord willing!
Previously published on the author’s blog