A Tale of Three Churches

I recently had conversations with two brothers from another church in my community about the lockdowns during COVID, specifically regarding church closures in our state (California). This caused me to think more about the responses of their church, my own church, and another church (also in our community) to the lockdown directives. To begin with, let me present brief narratives about each church’s response to the governor’s changing directives.

  • The church that my two brothers are a part of (now about 500) initially locked down in March of 2020 for a few weeks and then reopened. However, after a few more weeks, they locked down again. Then they decided to meet outdoors (on the church property), but by then, morning temperatures were in the 50s, so after a few more weeks, they decided to move indoors, to a different building on the church “campus,” but with the doors open. While initially an improvement, by this time, it was getting even colder outside, so the indoor temperature was still cold, especially since they didn’t turn on the heat (to save money?); this continued for about five months. Eventually, in late March of 2021, the church returned to “normal.” Throughout the duration, and continuing today, the church has been livestreaming its services. Small groups met sporadically during the yo-yo year, some online, and others in people’s backyards.
  • My own church (70+) locked down in March of 2020 and stayed that way until July of 2021, when we reopened. Throughout the duration, and continuing today, my church has been livestreaming its services. Our small groups (for all ages) met very regularly throughout the lockdown and have continued to do so. Since reopening, we have expanded our Sunday mornings to include Sunday school.
  • The third church (~3000, just now reported to me) locked down in March of 2020 and reopened about four months later, in July. At the first service after reopening, the pastor told the congregation that they shouldn’t have closed in the first place and that they would never close again. They continue to livestream their services, and they have plenty of small groups.

My intention is not to try to say which of these three churches did the “best” and which did the “worst.” I’m sure that different people reading this would respond very differently in that regard. However, regarding the first church, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of things. First of all, one of the brothers, who is a deacon, admitted that in hindsight, maybe they should have never locked down in the first place. The other brother expressed a lot of frustration about the church’s lockdown. He is older, and his family is not comfortable using technology; as a result, he felt isolated during the lockdown. His primary means of connecting with other believers was via telephone, which he did plenty of (including with me), but he sorely missed being face-to-face with other believers. He said that his sentiments were echoed by other older people in the church. My own church, in contrast, had regular small-group meetings throughout the lockdown. Also, because we are a small church, we were able to make sure that all of our members were taken care of. The deaconess in charge of our caring ministry contacted our elderly members, especially, on a very regular basis, making sure their various needs were met, including with technology. However, my frustrated brother from Church #1 reported to me that neither he nor any other elderly members that he was talking to had received a phone call from the church leadership during the first six months of lockdown.

This is not a “political” blog, but I would also be remiss if I didn’t say something about Governor Gavin Newsom’s lockdown directives. When you allow strip clubs, casinos, and “recreational cannabis dispensaries” to remain open because they are deemed to be providing “essential services,” but you lock down churches… need I say more?

There are two Scriptures that I noticed coming up again and again during COVID in relation to the church lockdown directives. One of them is Romans 13:1-2, which tells us, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” The second Scripture is Hebrews 10:25, which tells us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Throughout the pandemic, churches had to make their decisions, as they always should, on Scripture.

Church #1 seems to have been influenced more by Romans 13:1-2 than by Hebrews 10:25.

Church #2, my own church, may seem on the surface to have been influenced more by the Romans verses as well. However, every Sunday morning after the benediction, people could stay on Zoom and talk for a while. More significantly, as I mentioned earlier, all of our small groups, for all ages, continued throughout the lockdown without interruption. For myself and my wife, our couples’ Friday night Zoom gatherings were (and still are) incredible times of true koinonia. Our church also sometimes had outdoor social gatherings during COVID. So, did we “give up meeting together?” Only if you narrowly interpret this to mean being together regularly in person; we had very regular, blessed times of seeing each other face to face via Zoom. While I would have preferred to remain in person throughout COVID, I respect my church leaders’ decision.

Church #3 boldly made the decision to resume meeting in person after just a few months; remember also that the pastor said they shouldn’t have closed in the first place. They were clearly influenced primarily by Hebrews 10:25. In other words, they decided that it overrode Romans 13:1-2 because the governor had issued a directive that went against the Biblical directive to meet together; furthermore, he had allowed some “essential services” that promoted sinful behavior to remain open. It was, in essence, an act of civil disobedience.

Looking ahead, as I’ve mentioned before in a couple of previous posts, I believe more plagues will be coming. I hope that our political leaders will not be so foolish as to institute lockdowns again; I don’t think Americans would put up with such a devastating policy next time. If you’re interested in why I think the lockdowns were wrong, you can look at a Johns Hopkins study that came out in early February of this year, or you can just click here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2022/02/09/how-effective-were-the-lockdowns/

9 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Churches

  1. Keith, I was waiting for you to quote the classic response of Peter and John when ordered not to preach the gospel. – “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.'” (Acts 4:19) Granted, it’s not always that clear whether the government is ordering us to disobey God. But you make a very good point, that the “essential” businesses being kept open made it obvious this wasn’t about safety, it was (and still is, IMO) about control.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ann, an excellent verse! I just didn’t want to be too hard on those churches, like my own, that chose to go virtual for a while, especially when the koinonia and caring were still very much there. You’re right, though, regarding the government’s edicts; it’s fundamentally about control.

      Did your church go virtual for a while? I remember there was something you had written–maybe just a comment–that indicated it had.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We were closed for a while, except for the pastor and musicians and worship team. (I wanted SO badly to be on the worship team.) We would watch on line and have zoom meetings, some of which I would miss because I couldn’t get on (technical difficulties) and be so frustrated.
        I didn’t think the closures were affecting me that much. I just stayed home, did my writing, and watched the church service streamed. But one Sunday, one of the pastors said he’d talked to some people who said they were very sad about not meeting, and when he said, “I want you to know, it’s OK to feel sad,” I unexpectedly burst into tears. It was as if I had been waiting for permission.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. (To answer your question, we were closed for a few months, then opened with streaming still available for those who were uncomfortable meeting in person. Now there’s streaming only for those who for some reason can’t be there in person and are placed on a list that can access the service on line. I think they want to discourage people who have gotten used to watching it from home in their jammies to just keep staying home because it’s easier. Our leadership believe in the importance of coming together, literally. You can’t hug an image on your computer screen. When I asked one of the elders what they would do if we were ordered to stop meeting again, he said quietly but with certainty, “We would find a way to meet.” I found that reassuring.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. The idea of a list is an interesting one; I would just want to be able to access the service if I woke up sick on Sunday morning. It’s interesting that you mentioned hugs; the frustrated friend and brother that I mentioned in my post used the word “tactile” to refer to being together, even though he’s not much of a hugger. Anyway, I’m a hugger, so I definitely appreciate hugging other huggers at church!

            I also have to say that I wouldn’t have been able to stand being a part of the yo-yo church (#1 in my post) during COVID. In fact, it’s the church that we left shortly before COVID hit, as it turned out: a lot of poor decisions had been made over the years motivated by fear of various kinds, and they continued during the pandemic.

            Liked by 1 person

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