I’m the first one to express frustration at all that is going on right now. So, first, let the airing of grievances begin!

  1. I loathe, entirely, having a home office. We have 2 small children (5 & 3) and they provide constant entertainment and distraction. My wife has done an incredible job of trying to keep our family room (where my home office is located) blocked off to the rest of the house when I’m trying to write. But it’s not just the kids that make it hard to work from home. It’s the TV right behind me calling my name. It’s the window beside me that beckons me outside. It’s the pantry and refrigerator full of all sorts of goodies…
  2. Preaching to an empty sanctuary is for the birds. Seriously, it’s awful. It’s weird, it’s awkward, it’s emotionally draining to look at empty pews and think about who should be sitting there.
  3. I miss my people. There have been babies born, surgeries performed, people struggling. And I hate that I can’t be there for them in the same way right now. I miss those moments after worship full of hugs and handshakes and little white lies like “what an interesting sermon.” 🙂
  4. I miss baseball! SERIOUSLY! I’m a baseball addict. I even miss t-ball right now and I never thought that would happen. I love stopping by the school on a sunny afternoon and watching baseball and softball, hanging out at little league games, heading to Dozer Park, sneaking off to Wrigley and watching any game that’s on TV. I told someone the other day that I miss baseball so much that I’d even watch the White Sox, and that’s saying something. ESPN is the most depressing channel to watch right now.
  5. I hate how this has become a total political issue. Conservatives are going to argue with anything that Gov. Pritzker or Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden says. In the same way, those who lean Democrat are going to rip apart anything that President Trump says. I know that they are all posturing as well and waging political battles at the expense of we, the people. I think the common sense truth is somewhere in the middle of all the politics and I’m waiting for us to wake up to that.

I’m sure I could keep going, but I promised myself I’d stop at 5. I’m sure you have yours too.

But, like you, I have a list of good things that have come from this as well.

  1. Families are spending a lot of quality time together. And that’s good, even if parents are craving some alone time and the wine cabinet has run dry.
  2. Communities are coming together in love and kindness. We’ve been walking a lot more, and total strangers are going out of their way to greet us. We realize how much we need that interaction. Folks have also been kind to stop their walks and allow our girls to love on their dogs as they walk passed our house.
  3. I’m getting some neglected home improvement projects done. Lawn, fertilized and reseeded. Cleaned up all the outdoor landscaping. Built a raised garden bed for us to grow fresh veggies. Replaced all the cabinet pulls in our kitchen. Fixed a broken rocking chair. Supervised from an acceptable distance while my buddy did a TON of work on my car.
  4. I had some time to really think about some things I want to accomplish in my life. Yes, I’m crazy. I just applied for a doctoral program at United Seminary.
  5. Churches all over the place are blowing the dust out. Well, actually the Holy Spirit is blowing the dust out. I’m seeing churches that haven’t done anything since Jesus left re-engage their community in incredible ways. I’ve been so proud of my local church. They’ve been meeting tangible needs for our food pantry and weekend snack bags through the school. I can’t tell you how many calls and texts and porch presents I’ve received from church members offering encouragement and love during this time. Living rooms all over our area are becoming sanctuaries. We even had guys at the Peoria Fire Department join us for worship this morning! Life groups are a new emphasis for us, and I’m so proud of the way they’ve continued online. I think we’re seeing what is really important and the Holy Spirit is awakening us to the centrality of Scripture, prayer and evangelism. We’re doing some really cool, innovative things….that we probably should have been doing all along and COVID kicked them into necessary.

And it’s that last point that I think the Holy Spirit might be really trying to show all churches, but most especially those of us in the Methodist/Wesleyan movement. Is it possible that God is trying to reawaken us to who we really are? I’ve been thinking a lot lately that this is a great opportunity for us in that Wesleyan tradition to return to being a bit more vile. Yes, vile.

As the Holy Spirit shows us what is really important, I think maybe we’re being shown that we’ve made an idol out of our church buildings. Before you start throwing stones, I’m not saying we should abandon our buildings! My local church has a brand new family life center that is almost finished–we haven’t even used it yet.

I’m so proud of how it’s come together, it’s absolutely beautiful and it’s going to be an awesome tool in God’s hands. But it’s just that, a tool. Maybe it’s time for us to be a bit more vile.

Papa Wesley struggled with this for a bit, too. George Whitfield was preaching out in the field and the prim and proper Anglican, Mr. Wesley, really hated it. He wrote in his journal:

“What marvel the devil does not love field preaching? Neither do I. I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit.”–The Journal of John Wesley, June 23, 1759

I totally identify with that! Have you seen that new addition? Seriously, watch the video I embedded above. I think our church sanctuary is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been in and you have no idea how much I love taking my place behind the sacred desk to preach the word to eager listeners. Well at least most of them are eager….Selah hasn’t been able to hang with us during living room worship.

Selah passed out during my sermon….”Great Sermon, Dad.”

But, just hear me out.  The church building is just one tool in God’s hands, not the only one. And it’s extremely likely that when the shelter at home orders start to lift (ours in Illinois has been extended through May 30), we won’t be able to go flocking back to the church building right away. There will likely still be restrictions on large group gatherings (10, 50, 100, whatever). Church leaders are already scrambling to make plans for how to address that reality and what other things need to change for awhile about group gatherings (passing the offering plate, shaking hands, how to receive communion….should we be doing group singing since aerosol is the best way to spread the virus, on and on and on). And even when restrictions on group gatherings are totally lifted, there are still going to be a lot of people who are nervous about gathering or their health won’t allow it. A lot of the innovations we’ve created on the fly will need to continue. We’ll need to continue to make online worship available and do it well. Online giving will become more normative (less than half of U.S. churches were set up to receive offerings online prior to the pandemic). Some things will never go back to “normal.” And I’m saying that’s ok. Maybe they shouldn’t. Listen, I want to be back in our buildings too, but we shouldn’t abandon these other means of doing and being church either.

I left a line out of Wesley’s journal earlier. He hated the field preaching and loved the beautiful buildings…..BUT:

“What a marvel the devil does not love field preaching? Neither do I. I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit. But where is my zeal if I do not trample all these under foot in order to save one more soul?“–The Journal of John Wesley, June 23, 1759

I want to point out that Wesley never ended up loving field preaching. This journal entry actually comes 20 years AFTER he started field preaching. It took a lot of convincing from George Whitfield and more and more church doors being closed to Papa Wesley, but he finally gave in:

“At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.”–The Journal of John Wesley, April 2, 1739

Doors were closed, so he took his message to the people and started preaching in a field. 3,000 people listened. Twenty years later he’s still doing the field preaching thing, and it’s still rubbing against his high church anglicanism but it’s all worth it to see more people come to know Jesus. Field preaching was a huge part of the Wesleyan movement and the evangelical revival in general. The Methodists were known for their innovation. The class & band meetings, those wonderful hymns, lay preachers, women in leadership. John was writing about healthy living before anyone else was even thinking about it.

John Wesley Preaching from the Steps of a Market Cross. J.W. Hatherell, mid 20th century.

Friends, COVID19 has closed some doors. We’re doing church differently. My suggestion is that we use this opportunity to be more vile and reach more and more people with the message of Jesus Christ, let’s be laser-focused on making new and better disciples….even when our beautiful buildings are back open. By being more vile, I mean let’s open ourselves up a bit and allow ourselves to innovate again. Let’s do all we can to use all the tools God has offered for building His Kingdom….our church buildings, our living rooms, the coffee shop, your workplace, the park, and even the internet.

It may make us uncomfortable, but at least we’re in good company with Papa Wesley. Vile, innovative. It’s who we were. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we can be again.

3 thoughts on “The Vile Opportunity of COVID-19

  1. What a great read. Congrat’s on an opportunity of furthering your education-what a great mentor you will be. You have greatness and share with all of us/ thank you! Blessings- Judy McMillan

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