“Pastor, this has been overwhelming for my family.”
“I feel like I’m stuck in grief because we did not get to mourn with our friends and family.”
“I miss singing with my friends at church.”
“I have not seen anybody in four months except the nurses who come to check on me, and I am really lonely.”
“We have to move because I lost a job due to the COVID-19 crisis, and we cannot afford to live here anymore.”
“I’m taking a mental-leave break to take care of my children while my wife works her business.”
These are a few of the words spoken to me within the last four months since America woke up to the reality of a virus we still do not understand.
Our church had one of the earliest cases of COVID-19 in our state, so we shifted to online worship a week before most churches did. We still have yet to return to our physical worship space.
In between then and now, we have seen four funerals our members could not attend, several of our families lose jobs, kids not being able to finish their school year, and now the new school year will begin at home.
Parents are having to scramble to determine how to work and home-school their children.
That does not even touch the boulders some families in our area face, including food insecurity, lack of access to Wi-Fi since libraries are closed and eviction.
Anecdotally, people are suffering from “Coronasomnia”– insomnia caused by the anxiety of the coronavirus epidemic.
Add to that our national reckoning on race, the constant bombardment of information through our social media platforms and instant news, and the bloviating of talking heads both politically and theologically, we have, in the words of Hamilton, “a powder keg about to explode.”
Psychologists believe human beings lose up to 30 IQ points during crisis. You can imagine the mental, social and emotional toll this pandemic has taken on everybody.
In reading the signs and times, the new missionary field of the church just might be mental and emotional health coming out of this pandemic. We will need churches who heal.
When Jesus started his kingdom ministry, he went around Galilee preaching, teaching and healing (Matthew 4:23). That is how news spread about Jesus all over the region.
Later in Matthew, Jesus sends out an invitation to all who are “weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The great pastor of pastors, Eugene Peterson, translates that phrase in The Message as, “I will teach you the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30).
In family systems theory, the ones who can initiate healing and change within families are the ones with a non-anxious presence.
They are the peacemakers within the family. They have differentiated themselves from the chaotic, unhealthy cycles of the typical family pattern and have entered back in as healers.
In a chaotic American culture, led by a cacophony of noise, churches need to be the non-anxious presence in the world. After all, we are promised the “peace that passes all understanding.”
While we admit all healing comes from God, God calls the church to heal. What does that look like?
One way of healing is to allow people to lament. Lament expresses the soul’s disorientation and hurt to God and trusts that God will do something about it.
Nearly 40% of the Psalms are those of lament. Yet, in The Baptist Hymnal we have in our pews, only about 10% are songs of lament. We have stripped away any human emotion in our worship except a puffed-up joy.
On the other hand, churches who heal will point to a God big enough to handle the worst of us, still loves us, is present with us and shepherds us through what we are experiencing.
Churches who heal will give space to the human experience, listen to people’s stories and tell stories of the goodness of God.
Churches who heal will not be afraid of emotion or mental anxiety but will sit non-anxiously with the peace that passes all understanding leading the way.
Churches who heal will recover the idea of sanctuary.
At the back of our new worship space is an iron sign inscribed with the words, “Our invitation is to all who are weary and need rest; to all who are lonely and need friends; to all who sin and need a Savior; to whosoever will come, this church opens wide her doors.”
May we open wide our doors not as defenders of a culture lost, but as healers of a wounded world.
Pastor of Crievewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and an adjunct professor at Belmont University.