West Michigan Christian News sought biblical insights from ministers of various denominations. While they freely acknowledge many questions remain unanswered, the pastors understand the times we live in and know what to do. Here is their timely counsel.
Dr. Timothy Mark Harris senior pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church and co-chair of Grand Rapids Association of Pastors. 'It's about the people'
The pandemic has brought a clearer focus on what a church's priorities should be, according to Pastor Harris. "It was never about programming," Harris says. "It's always been about the people and I think the pandemic has brought that in focus."
Harris said his church has taken the time to assess people's basic needs, and has sought a more community-wide focus that relies on other groups to work interpedently.
"We take more time discerning the basic needs and following up and having more of a care ministry rather than, I want to say, more self-absorbed," Harris says. "It's more community based. We should be working together in the body of Christ."
Harris added he believes the residual results of the pandemic will produce sustainable changes that are positive.
"The pandemic has exposed a lot of things," Harris says. "It's exposed a lack of partnerships in our communities and disparities in our community when it comes to healthcare, nutritional food, and also when it comes to education and access to the internet. We have an obligation as the body of Christ. We serve a God of justice and we have a responsibility to care for those who are in need and can't care for themselves.
Craig Owens, pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Cedar Springs. 'More in-depth communication'
Pastor Owens said his connections and conversations with his congregation have been strengthened since the pandemic forced social distancing and a stay-at-home order. The Sunday routine before the coronavirus pandemic followed a routine for Owens: talk briefly before the worship service, preach a sermon, which he adds is essentially a monologue, and then talk briefly with people after the service. Now it's different.
"It's a lot more one-on-one," Owens says. "Sometimes it's a phone call, sometimes my wife and I bake some treats and take them to (their) house, sometimes if they were comfortable, we'd stand outside in the yard, sometimes we'd leave them on the front porch, knock on the door or send them a text that we left something out for you on the front porch. On more Zoom meetings, we've had more connection, and found out much more about people.
Owens said Acts 4:46-47 also has come into sharper focus: "Every day they met together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (NIV).
"I think that every day aspect has got away from us," Owens says. "The autopilot mode was everything was focused on Sunday. My focus has become the other six days in the week."
Owens added he believes the Holy Spirit has more lessons to teach Christians down the road.
"I think more of it will become clear in the months and years to follow," he says. "The Holy Spirit typically takes us through an experience and teaches a lesson afterwards. What we've learned so far I think is just the tip of the iceberg."
Pastor Jack Kooreman, Grace Christian Reformed Church and co-chair of Grand Rapids Association of Pastors. 'The Psalms are brutally honest'
The pandemic has not been an easy row to hoe for Pastor Kooreman. "Certainly the most difficult challenge since I've been in ministry is right now," he says.
He finds the book of Psalms timely and relevant. God is among us when we're in the valleys of life.
"The Psalms are brutally honest while praying through our fears, struggles and sadness," Kooreman says. "That's where we turn to and it's a matter of walking together in faith. God never promised us a life that would be without sufferings, struggles and challenges. We need to know what we should be about and do the best again.
"I have talked to pastors in Zeeland and Borculo and it's not the same level of fear and anxiety we're experiencing in Grand Rapids. Masks are not a huge thing. Grand Rapids people are taking it more serious in urban places. It's been an urban thing so far. Reaction has been different depending on where you live. All the pastors I know have taken it really serious. No one has bucked the system."
Pastor Traci Parker, Woodland Drive-In Church. 'We're in a good place'
Pastor Parker's church was practicing social distancing long before the term became a part of the English lexicon. People worship inside the familiar environs of their vehicle, as they have when the Drive-In church was launched as an outreach in 1970 by then-pastor of Fifth Reformed Rev. Ray Rewerts.
Even so, Parker's church didn't re-open until mid-May. "We just wanted to be as cautious as we could be," she says. "We were really careful about trying to get people to stay in their cars."
The pandemic has honed to a fine point the reality of how vital church is for people, particularly seniors, who need human contact. God, she emphasizes, created us to go out and meet people, which is difficult to do when quarantined.
"It's really hard for the people who regularly come who are in retirement homes," Parks says. "It's been an emotional burden on people. As much as people are physically vulnerable because of the disease, they're emotionally and spiritually vulnerable because they don't get to see one another. Talking to some of my wider circle of pastors who are struggling with this time, it's hard to know how to minister and care for people really well in this kind of environment.
"Functionally for us, we're in a good place."
Father Joachim Lally, retired Paulist priest in senior ministry. ' We are called to put meaning to struggles, pain and death'
Father Lally urges believers to keep their eyes on the prize.
"As long as we stay in our everyday conscious of judging, comparing and criticizing, trying to understand everything and figure it out, we will never be the kind of people that God wants us to be," Lally says. "The basic message of Jesus was not of transaction but of transformation. Transaction says you do this and this and this and you gain that. Jesus came to teach us transformation, which always includes death and resurrection.
"We are called to put meaning to struggles, pain and death by looking upon it as a time of growth and transition."