Covid, Snow, and Canceling Church

Pastor Hedman.

It’s Saturday night, the snow is falling, and inquiring minds want to know: “Are you going to cancel church?” My pastoral policy is this: “If I can be there, we’ll have church. I trust people to decide if it’s safe for them.”

After the most recent Big Snow at the beginning of January, this policy was put to the test. People are snowed in. No one is likely to come. But we didn’t cancel. And basically no one came. Just our family and our neighbors. Seven people, including three toddlers. Was it really worth it? Does that count as church? I argue, yes and yes. We rang the bells, said some prayers, took communion, and it was beautiful. But, why? All the other churches are canceling, why take this approach? There are a couple reasons, all shaped by the experience of covid.

First, the lockdowns of covid left me with a deep impression that Church is essential. You may remember “essential” was the dividing line between businesses that were allowed to be open or not. Initially, this referred to firefighters, police, doctors, etc. But then it expanded to grocery stores, delivery drivers, liquor stores… but still not churches. What does this tell you about the government’s view of the church? Or about many church’s view of themselves? If man is essentially physical, and not spiritual, then clearly he needs food and doctors but not pastors and prayer. For too many, church had become the optional cherry on top of a nice suburban lifestyle, akin to a motivational gym membership, easy to neglect, forget, and close. Yet, if man is spiritual and physical, then church fulfills an essential human need for connection with God and others. I believe that Church is as essential to the soul as food and doctors are to the body. So if doctors and police are digging out to get to work, then I can do the same.

Second, church needs to be embodied. During covid, many jobs were able to “go online” and it was far too easy for churches to do the same. But human beings are not brains on a stick. Yes, we can “pray anywhere,” but you have to pray somewhere. Rare and heroic is the monk and hermit who can thrive in his relationship with God in a cave by himself. For the rest of us, we need a community to shake hands and wash feet with. We also need embodied symbols that help us in our weakness: water, oil, bread, and wine are all essential to the church. You cannot get baptized and take communion online, period. Church, therefore, is a blue collar affair, like construction and burger-flipping, that simply cannot be done online. So, again, if the gas station and the plowmen are digging out to get to work, then I can do the same.

Lastly, I trust our people to make the best decisions for their health and safety. During covid, I saw pastors pulling their hair out to figure out if it was safe to hold church or not. Many foolishly deferred to the CDC. Ultimately, the answer was complicated, depending on your age and health. I can’t make that kind of calculation for every member of our church. Any amount of snow will be too slippery for some, no amount will be for others. The best calculus I can make is this: given my responsibility to do the essential embodied work of the church, I will do everything in my power to be there. If you are unable to make it, I trust you and you don’t need to feel guilty. Rest assured that your pastor will be praying for you and ringing those bells, that this valley may know that there’s a Church in Garwin and it is essential.