By Patrick Scriven
John Krasinski, who first rose to prominence in the NBC mockumentary The Office, stumbled into a need people have during these troubling days. It started with a tweet:
Building off of the many stories of good news he received in response, Krasinski has been putting together a weekly, low-budget, news series that has found an audience in the millions. It succeeds by largely avoiding the troubling questions that need to be asked about who is to blame, focusing instead on the positive stories of people helping others.
Some Good News isn’t perfect — and to many, that is part of its charm — but it does appear to provide moments of comfort and escape for its audience.
One piece of news I encountered yesterday might appear to be good news at first glance. Pew Research provided a look at how states across the U.S. are managing the rights of religious groups in regards to COVID-19 social distancing rules. They found that most states are offering some form of exemption to religious groups.
While it might seem like a good thing that some state governments are considering religious freedom as they determine restrictions for the public health, such decisions, whether they are made from sincere respect for religious groups, fear of litigation, or political calculation, are no favor to anyone.
By now you have likely read Bishop Stanovsky’s extension to May 30 of in-person worship suspension and closure of church facilities. And as you absorb that information, some of you may be starting to wonder what comes next, and when will the day arrive when we’ll hear some good news?
I hope you will consider with me that it is good news in these strange times, that our church buildings remain closed. It is good that we have an episcopal leader making decisions driven not by market values, but instead core Christian and Wesleyan values.
Starting next week, we’ll begin to engage many of the questions that surround reopening our facilities when that time comes. That will be the topic of next Wednesday’s webinar and likely many of the conversations leaders will be engaging on various levels.
Situations like these tend to reveal our values, and this can surface personal and corporate work that we need to do still. Even though it comes with loss and pain, I’m thankful that we are together revealing a love of neighbor, however imperfectly, that reflects a God who wants us to live and love generously.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.
And there is some hidden good news for small churches who use Zoom for worship and meetings. While we are not together in person, we are able to know more about everyone during Zoom calls. Instead of 1:1 conversations, we ahve 1:many conversations on Zoom. For example, Vashon United Methodist Church holds fellowship hour after worship (both on Zoom) and we all hear about what is happening as each person takes a turn to share. I know more now about my fellow worshipers joys and concerns that I ever did during in-person Sundays.
What a fabulous side-effect. Thanks for sharing, Eric.
Mr. Scriven – I could not disagree with you more concerning your article’s assessment of states considering religious exemptions. Many of these “waivers” are designed to place churches in the same category as other essential businesses. Is there a business more essential than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Are marijuana shops more essential than church? I am not advocating that churches reopen irresponsibly; I am merely advocating that we take the Great Commission seriously. While I am pleased that some states are listening to those who are taking that commission seriously, I am uncertain if that same commitment exists in the Pacific Northwest. Washington is one of only ten states that ban any form of religious gathering. Why isn’t church leadership advocating to change that?
If our only guiding principal is “do no harm,” we will never do any good. How many people will never return to church, or go in the first place, if they perceive that we are indifferent to the very core of our faith? Churches can and will reopen with the same distancing and hygiene guidelines as Safeway, yet Safeway is considered essential. What does that tell people about our commitment to our faith? What message do we send by claiming that it is good news that our churches are closed, but our liquor stores are open?
I also take exception to the idea that those who wish to reopen are driven by “market values.” I cannot think of a single example from my interactions with any church, church leader, episcopal leader or civic leader whose desire to resume worship is driven by market values. The primary motivation to reopen is to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to serve those who are committed to it, and to welcome those who are new to it. Our congregation members are thoughtful, faithful people who can make their own decisions about risks involved in returning to corporate worship, and faithful church leaders are capable of making decisions that best serve their congregations in their local setting.