by Ward Shope
Last week, I ran across the name of a long-time church member that I probably hadn’t seen or talked to since the pandemic began. Knowing that he lives in a small household where he is a caregiver, and that he lives at some distance to the church, I felt an inner prompting (whether by the Spirit or not) to give him a call. Because I knew I might be calling during work hours, I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t pick up. The call went to voice mail. What happened next did surprise me. The voice on the line told me, “The mailbox belonging to (phone number) is full and will not receive your message. Please hang up.”
I immediately began to wonder what might be wrong. Might the person he is caring for have died during the pandemic. Did something happen to him? I tried emailing him, and that also bounced. I’ve tried to call him several other times, but to no avail. So now, I’m not sure what to do. I don’t think he has many friends outside of the church. Who is caring for him? Do I need to physically run out to his house?
Sadly, I doubt he’s the only one who is disconnected. We’ve been through a rough stretch relationally during the pandemic. None of us had any idea 12 months ago where we would be now. Some of us need to work harder at being connected. Some of us need to work harder at connecting with others – especially those nearer to the fringes of the body. With newer members, it may be just that they hadn’t yet really found their friendship “pod” in the church. How can we draw them in?
It’s why we’re always emphasizing being part of a home group. If you disappear, someone will notice. If something goes wrong, you have someone to call. Being part of a home group enables us to care for one another and to grow in knowing Jesus and to make him known. When I was in youth group, we used the image an ember separated from the fire. It’s not long until it turns cold and burns out. But as part of the group, it remains hot and alive.
We wait for many to return to regular church attendance. We know there are many good reasons for not being here. At the same time, worship together draws the body of Christ together. We find ourselves in a room, not focused on ourselves, but corporately directed to the One who reigns on his throne. It’s there that we remember who we are – our need, our brokenness, or sin. It’s there that we remember who Jesus – who meets our needs, makes us whole and exchanges our sin for his righteousness on the cross. In Him we find our identity, our vitality, our sense of belonging. We need the faith of others to keep our faith alive.
In short, we miss each other and we long for the deeper connections we all need with each other and with Jesus in whatever the future looks like. God give us wisdom and perseverance to stay connected.