Christ’s Nearness in Social Distance by Rev. Katy Shevel, Fairmount Presbyterian Church

As our Presbytery Leader, Jeanne Radak writes, “This is uncharted territory for all of us.”

Churches in our Presbytery are now facing some very difficult decisions. In light of the spread of COVID19, congregations are beginning to suspend worship services and other church-related events for weeks at a time. Health and medical experts are encouraging us to practice “social distancing,” which the CDC defines as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approx. 6 feet) from others when possible.” This is all to the good! It is imperative upon us to do everything we can to arrest the spread of this disease and promote the health and safety of our communities.

That being said, as congregations begin to physically withdraw from one another, anxieties and fears of social isolation are palpable. Pastors in our Presbytery gathered via Zoom this week to discuss tips and share ideas about alternative methods to foster community and worship together, even if and when we are no longer able to gather physically. I feel truly humbled to be a part of this caring and thoughtful team of faith leaders. Thankfully, we live in a time when technology can help us bridge the challenge of social distancing.

Facebook Live presents opportunities for streaming Sunday services. Social media pages and websites can be enhanced and better utilized. Weekly newsletters and emailing worship resources present countless ways to keep our congregations engaged together. The mantra in our Zoom meeting was one of encouragement: Get creative! Do more! Use this as an opportunity to think big, not small…

 I witnessed the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in that Zoom gathering, video conferencing delays and all! I’ve seen the Spirit’s fire in the midst of clergy gatherings around this issue. I’ve seen it on countless social media threads. Why? Because nobody has the “right” answers. No one’s seminary education prepared them for ministry during a pandemic. We are boldly stepping into the void of the unknown together—and this hard truth is fostering an imaginative spark in the Church. Because even when we aren’t physically present together, Christ is present with us!

Paul reminded the church in Philippi of four simple words: “The Lord is near.” There are no qualifiers behind this statement. Except when you’re sick at home… Except when you’re self-quarantining for 14 days…

 No, the Lord is always near.

When Jesus arrives in the apostle Peter’s home, he finds Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. He reaches for her hand. In Matthew’s version of this story, no one asked Jesus to heal her. No one even told Jesus she was sick. Jesus descends from a mountain and enters the town of Capernaum, performing a series of healings in the community. After which, Jesus goes to this woman who is ill and isolated in her home, touches her hand, and makes her well.

This story reminds us that Christ knows our situation and comes to us. As we fearfully consume media updates and anxiously stockpile supplies, God is with us. Even when social distancing demands us to physically step away, still we are called to lean further into our unity as one Body of Christ. Our spiritual connectedness transcends the limitations of physical space and invites us to be creative in how we extend love and care for one another during this uncertain time. We will find new ways to worship and fellowship, knowing Christ is there among us and extending us grace in our efforts. For those times when we feel truly alone, truly afraid, we rely on our Lord: who seeks and finds, heals and restores, and draws us ever closer to God and to one another.

Friends, the Lord is near. Amen.