Church Operations During a State of Emergency

Atypical experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sermon in an empty church in Neustädt, Mexico

Since the beginning of 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken hold of the world. Very few countries have been exempt from it. Public life has, for the most part, come to a standstill over the past weeks.

Observations of Society

The last few weeks have shown how easily people in our day are influenced. The inundation of information has overburdened many and led to unusual patterns of behavior. Existential fears have become very real; the future seems uncertain. People have been keeping an appropriate physical distance but have also outwardly and inwardly become estranged from one another. Some have been astonishingly quick to monitor people in their surroundings and inform on them.

Of note is the widespread uncertainty about the actual situation. What is really true? How can we correctly assess the real situation? On one hand, information from public sources and “reliable” media coverage have painted an extremely dangerous and unsettling picture of the coronavirus. Then there have been increasingly serious remarks and questions from scientists and experts who have come to completely different conclusions. What is really the truth, and how do we come to that conclusion?

However, these weeks have also shown us some positive things. Everything has somehow become slower-paced. Many people have begun to think not only of themselves but also of others and to be open towards those who are weaker and older. It has often been expressed that everyone feels they are in the same situation and therefore, people turn towards each other. Virtues such as showing helpfulness, care, friendliness, and patience barely seemed to exist in the last few years. However, in this special time, they seem to have turned up again and allowed society to appear in a friendlier light. 

Even the willingness to talk about serious issues has increased. Some people have understood this illness to be a word from God, and they have opened themselves to thoughts about eternity. Others have searched for quiet and comfort for their souls in prayer.

Our Church Operations

A great awareness of the spread of the coronavirus led to many countries imposing curfews or at least prohibiting contact with others. Events with over 10 people were prohibited nearly everywhere. This affected the corporate worship services of all faith groups in many countries, from Kazakhstan to Germany, North America to South America. The goal of these measures was to reduce the spread of the virus that may have occurred through close contact with others.

As a church, our view is that this particular case is not one in which our faith has been suppressed, but we have understood these directives to be a responsible action by the government. Therefore, many congregations have refrained from holding corporate worship services (Romans 13:1 and Titus 3:1).

Worship Services in an Unprecedented Way

Even though the usual corporate worship services are no longer possible for the majority of our congregations, everyone all over has tried to preach God’s Word in a different way, for every soul requires nourishment and encouragement. 

A number of congregations had begun transmitting worship services online over the last few years. Over livestream, Internet radio, and via a phone connection, brothers and sisters and those who were interested in listening were given the opportunity to take part in the services indirectly. Due to our changed situation, livestreaming has suddenly taken on the leading role.  

On Sundays and during the week, the doors of many of the houses of the Lord have remained locked. Only a small group, along with the pastor, has been able to hold a worship service in the church, which has then been transmitted over the Internet. At some locations, only the pastor and the necessary technical team have been present; at others, a few singers and prayer warriors have been there for support. Video recordings of songs and other presentations, which are then played during the worship services, have become important. In all locations, it has been a new undertaking to hold children’s services and youth meetings online, but here too God has given grace and guidance. For the first time, the Easter Conference in Hamm, Germany, which has been held annually for over 60 years, and the Pentecost Conference in Herford, Germany were replaced by livestreaming at the usual worship service times, arranged by the various local congregations in Germany.

It has been difficult to fellowship with others in the congregation. Even though small home-based services have been held among families during livestreaming, the corporate prayer of believers has been missing. For this reason, one congregation has been holding prayer meetings over Zoom (similar to Skype) with congregants. Believers have had the opportunity to participate in prayer after the Bible study. In a few other locations, services have always been held over Skype/Zoom to facilitate discussion amongst congregation members and to pray together.

Choir song in the church in Eppingen

Further important channels of interaction, besides telephone, have been groups on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook. Here, thoughts, greetings, encouragement, suggestions, and information are shared. But all of these things cannot completely replace true fellowship, communal singing and prayer, loving greetings and hugs – especially because not all congregation members are able to use these technologies and therefore cannot take part in these online gatherings.

Hymn singing in a service in Steinbach

What Have We Learned through This

This time has taught us to be thankful. We took all of the gifts of “normal” life for granted: the blessed worship services, fellowship, being together as a family of God, freedom, and prosperity. We often didn’t treasure the worship services as much as we should have. The Church of God is much more than a church building, corporate worship services, or fellowship with children of God. It is the body of Christ, through which the Holy Spirit flows, the whole of all who are saved. This Church is not dependent on outward circumstances, even when they influence her. 

God has shown us the truth of His Word: that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). For many congregations, God has closed the door to corporate worship services for now, but another door, which until now had only opened a crack, has been opened wide. Online transmission of the gospel truths in Word and song are an important way to reach people with the message of salvation in this time. Many congregations have taken huge steps forward in this regard over the past few weeks and have become more visible. In the future, we should continue to work intensely on this in order to bring people onto this path to godly light. 

Ladies song, Shalom, Bolivia

We have also had to learn that each individual person is responsible for the development of his or her soul. It is not the pastor and not the church that primarily cares for your soul. In all battles, temptations, and distractions, each child of God must personally carry his soul in his own hands and care for its health. So that we are not deceived, it is vital that we remain grounded in the biblical truth and live in it (Ephesians 4:13-16). 

Crises come and go, but the Rock, Jesus Christ, on which the Church is built, remains unchangeable. Whichever storms may confront the Church, God holds and protects her with His omnipotence. We can all be at peace and entrust ourselves to His grace and godly wisdom.

The Editorial Team

The thoughts and experiences in this article were compiled from the input of leaders of various Church of God congregations in Germany and North and South America.

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