There is a lot that the church can learn from my neighborhood. If you live in a neighborhood, I bet you are seeing many similar examples that could further illustrate the point I’m making here. Let me start with a story:
On Saturday my wife and I were sitting outside while our kids jumped on the trampoline (which is worth its weight in gold right now). We noticed one car after another driving past our house, more slowly than normal.
Are people really so bored that they are just cruising the neighborhood?! At one point, Melissa observed that she had seen the same car go by multiple times. Weird.
Later that day, we went for a walk and visited with neighbors who were out in their yard. We visited with them for a few minutes and learned that there was a bear hunt in our neighborhood. Word had spread through Facebook and we had missed it.
A bear hunt? Some of you may have already seen this or had it happen where you live. Basically, people hid bears (think the cuddly stuffed animal variety) in various places where people could seem them by simply slowly driving by their house. Maybe in the blinds of a bedroom window. Or peeking out of an open mailbox.
In the midst of social distancing and orders to shelter in place, people in my neighborhood found ways to connect and be together without being together in the usual way.
People are finding creative ways to be together as much as possible in this season. I think the pull to virtual spaces is causing people to crave in person interactions all that much more. Here are a few other ways I’m seeing this:
There are way more people than normal walking and jogging in our neighborhood. When I have been exercising, I’ve also noticed that people are greeting each other more frequently and in more depth than they ordinarily do. Maybe social distancing is making even introverts extroverted, at least for a season.
We have another neighbor who bought an awesome looking inflatable slip-n-slide. They have been out in their yard almost every single time I have been by their house. And they live on a corner, so they are in a kind of hub of our part of the neighborhood. They are connecting really well in this season with their neighbors.
I’ve also noticed that more people than normal are working in their yards. (I know that this is the season, so I could be wrong. But it feels like it is more than ordinary.) This is not only an opportunity to see people who are out and about, it also feels like a way in which we are being reminded of what is real and physically present in front of us in a season where so many normal physical interactions have been taken away from us.
I’m not sure our flower beds have looked this good since we bought our house! And if that hasn’t been true for others, I think it has been the case for us.
So, here is what the church can learn from my neighborhood:
People want to be together.
They will find beautifully creative ways to connect (bear hunts!) if the ordinary ways of connecting are removed from them (Saturday youth baseball games and birthday parties).
Many churches are rightly doing everything that they can to help people connect as best as they can online in this season. Churches are holding online worship services. Many pastors and other leaders in the church are creating video messages and updates to stay connected with people. People are even *gasp* using their phones to call members of the church and check in on them!
All of these things are to be commended.
I have even taught Sunday School on Zoom the last two weeks. I didn’t know I had it in me! And I have been surprised by how many people have showed up and how much I’ve loved connecting with them in this way.
At the end of the day, people want to be together. And the gathered community is ultimately where it is at. It is what people (Christians and non-Christians) need.
This week, as I have been at home and more attentive to what is happening around me, I have found myself hoping and praying that churches will begin preparing now for the next time they can be together. I hope that we will not try to push every single thing we do when we are together to virtual space.
I hope that at some level we will let the pain of not being able to gather together just be. I hope we will let it serve as a reminder of what a blessing it was (and will be) to be able to drive to church and gather together with brothers and sisters in the faith. Give hugs and handshakes. And just be in the crowd.
There are creative ways we can try to be together as fully as we can until we meet again. But the truth is none of those ways are able to replace the real thing.
And believe it or not, that is actually good news.
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.