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Thomas: If coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it’s that church is not a building, it’s people | COMMENTARY

Just 6 months ago, our economy was roaring. We were enjoying all the amenities of our freedoms as United States citizens and living the good life! Then in March, someone began to dim the lights.

We caught wind of a virulent disease in China and began to wonder if it could impact us. After all, we’ve been through Ebola breakouts, and other infectious diseases in places and countries far from touching us. Suddenly the lights went out. America was caught in the turbulent clutches of COVID-19 and almost overnight our lives changed. We were told to stay home for 2 weeks and flatten the curve. Two weeks turned into months. Makeshift hospitals were quickly assembled. Ventilators, masks, gloves and sanitizers were in peak demand. Everything and everybody, including the church, went online.

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Thank God the full impact of this virus seems to have been averted. But life has changed dramatically. Loved ones were lost, businesses closed, and social distancing and virus protocols radically disconnected us from people and places. At this point, we don’t know if, when and how our children will go to school. We don’t know if businesses will recover or simply disappear. And church, at least the way we knew it and practiced it, will most likely be a memory.

Romans 8:28 says “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

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Despite the many losses that people have suffered, God promises to work in this horrible situation for the good of those who love God. That means in God’s eternal perspective, these days in which we live can help us grow to be better disciples, better neighbors and better people. I think too, God will help the church to grow to be all that He intended it to be.

Let’s admit it. For decades the mantra of the Church was “How do we get people into our buildings?” We learned the hard way in these COVID-19 days what we already knew deep in our hearts but refused to accept or live out: the church is not a building, it’s people!

Because of COVID-19 closures and the controversial designation that the church is “non- essential,” congregations throughout the US and world were forced to leave their buildings and live out their discipleship and ministries in their neighborhoods and communities. We were forced to be the hands and feet of Christ to those around us — outside our church walls!

And it’s working. People are discovering the reality of Jesus’ love for them through the daily witness of disciples who are “taking it to the streets” and sharing the Good News of Jesus through both word and deed. Someone said that the church today is the closest it’s ever been to having the influence and impact on people that the first church had as recorded in the Book of Acts.

That would be remarkable, because that early Church turned the world upside down for the Kingdom of God! Right now, effective congregations are re-orienting their inward focus of self-preservation to an outward focus of reaching their communities and changing the world! Yes, this pandemic is catastrophically tragic and I pray the end of it all is coming soon. Yet, this disease got the Church to move beyond its walls, and that sure sounds like God, at least in part, is fulfilling His promise to “cause everything to work together for the good” to me!

The Rev. William Thomas is pastor at Hereford United Methodist Church. He can be reached at pastor@herefordumc.org.

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