why – or why not – return to church post-covid?

– baptism at WFPC

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
 These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Psalm 42:1-4
– North Carolina writer Derek Maul

One hot topic of discussion right now is the idea that, “People may not be coming back to church post-pandemic, because they have discovered they really weren’t missing anything when they stayed home.”

There is too much truth in the conversation for it to be dismissed lightly.

It fits in with something Rebekah and I have been saying for years:

“The good news of Jesus is transformational! The way we engage worship, and study, and mission, and fellowship must reflect not just the beauty but the irrepressible life of God.”

Today I want to talk a little about the evidence of life in church. It’s on my mind because I witnessed a baptism recently and I’m not sure that anyone got wet! And I listened to a sermon where I’m not sure that anyone was inspired.

Now I understand that baptism is a symbolic act, and also that sermons are not delivered so that people can feel entertained.

Everyone has their own particular style when it comes to officiating; but I have always felt there needs to be enough water in baptism there’s the danger of several people getting damp, and enough life in a sermon that the passion spills over too.

I want to see the water and feel the fire; I want splash, sparks, overflow, or at least significant dripping; I want tears and laughter; I want to see the immediacy of the Spirit; I want to know that something important is happening, something that feeds my soul and infuses me with life!

– up close and personal

When Rebekah and I were at Trinity in Pensacola, then First in Brandon, and more recently WFPC, the children would often be invited to come close for baptisms so they could see. There was always this buzz of excited anticipation and also a little nervousness; how close, you could tell they were wondering (and the adults, too), was it safe to be?

The short answer is that we really don’t want our experiences of The Divine to be too safe, too vanilla. Church may not be a place to be entertained, but it is important people know they have been in the presence of God. It’s not that the Holy has to be loud so much as palpable. Like the conversation recorded in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, when the children were about to meet Aslan for the first time. “Is he safe?” one of them asked.

“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I would like to think that people could come to church and feel in a sense that they have been baptized again, every time. That people could witness such irrepressible life in the preacher that there’s a splash zone for that too.

Church where the love gets all over you, where the leaders are so filled up with Jesus that just the light of God in their eyes is enough to make you want to listen; where even the children sit on the edges of their seats sometimes and pay attention; where taking communion makes your eyes well up with tears because the truth of it is so evident in the community; where you look forward to your class or your small group because your heart is filled and your mind is challenged; where you invite your friends to join you because you know so truly that God is there. Where deep calls to deep.

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

 By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

Psalm 42:7-8

I am glad we are having the conversation. Maybe some of the folk who have forgotten will remember the kind of life Jesus has invited us into. – DEREK

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