Last week, I was out for a run in the morning. There was smoke in the air from the wildfires all over the state. But I needed to get outside, get some exercise, spend time with God, and clear my head. This has been an important habit of mine during the pandemic, and it has kept me sane(ish).
As I was running, I started receiving text messages. “Are we still meeting?” Because of the smoke levels and the air quality, people were wondering if we were still having Youth Group, REFUEL, and Sunday morning outside service. I could understand the concern: the smoke levels were high and the air quality was low. For many people, they should not be outside. I began to wonder…should I be outside singing and teaching? But then I realized–I was already outside running! If I am willing to run outside for my health, I can lead these meetings with people for health as well. There has been so much of church (and life) canceled this year, and it has taken a heavy toll. I want to do everything I can to make these meetings and gatherings available for those who feel safe in coming.
My decision was no way saying that people were “supposed” to come; there are valid reasons to stay home in this season (staying connected through streaming, Zoom groups, and other ways). I want every person to take the steps they need for their spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. But if I chose not to have the meetings, I have made the decision for everyone who wanted (or needed) to attend.
After the run, I replied to the messages. “We are still meeting. I completely understand if you are not able to come, but we will be there.” I contacted the leaders from Youth Group, REFUEL, and Sunday morning to communicate the same message. Some were not able to make it, others were glad we were still meeting, and everyone was given grace and gave it in return. Each of the meetings had less people than normal but more people than expected. People need to gather, worship, and grow. These were incredible meeting times. Youth Group had three new young people attend (out of 12 total), and our youth are living into a culture shift that we are leading them through. REFUEL was powerful, with seven new people coming (almost 10% of the total attending); afterwards there we great conversations with people. Sunday morning saw new people and was much larger than anticipated, with over 90 people there. The same thought came up in almost every conversation: “I need this.”
Are we still meeting? Yes. I will do everything I can to lead well in this storm. We will obey the Lord while staying safe. We will extend grace for everyone who is choosing what they need to make it through this very tough year. We will love everyone, pointing them to Jesus and offering genuine community through many different venues, virtual spaces, and meetings. We are in this together. God is at work. And yes, we are still meeting.