That depends on how you define church. If you, (like a certain pastor in Florida) views church as a time to crowd fans into a building (filling both the pews and the collection plates) for a performance complete with theatrical preaching and a praise band all the while ignoring all the mandates to avoid physical distance for the health of all – then I would say definitely no! How does that express Jesus call for us to love one another as ourselves? Perhaps he missed John 15:13 where Jesus declares: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Today laying down one’s life means – laying down or sacrificing in love our individual right to congregate for the health and well being of everyone else.
However if we remember that the church has less to do with a building (Jesus never had one) and more to do with what happens outside the walls then YES I do believe that church is an essential service. For if it embodies what Jesus teaches us; it facilitates people-to-God and people-to-people connection and relationship. As the UCC banner we display reminds us, we are being The Church when we attend to: protecting the environment, caring for the poor, forgiving often, rejecting racism, fighting for the powerless, sharing earthly and spiritual resources, embracing diversity, loving God and enjoying this life. These are things that are best done outside the walls of our buildings and can be done virtually! Whether we choose high-tech options such as email, ZOOM, Facetime, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social platforms or low-tech options such as phone calls, cards, letters and the most important platform of all – Prayer – we are able to connect with one another in faith and friendship.
Having said that, please know that I truly miss gathering with you all. I do believe that something special and holy happens when we gather together to worship or to play. But that is not the essential piece of The Church. As the old hymn goes, “The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” This time of physical distancing can help us live out our call to be the church, Christ’s church, outside our walls and into the hearts of all we engage. As the hymn’s refrain reminds me: “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!” So I will skip the dusting and give someone a call.