More than a Sunday morning gathering
by Carol Tobin
Elder at Early Church, Harrisonburg, Va.
Early Church has never been defined primarily by our Sunday morning gathering. We have been known for the high value we have placed on being a glimmer of God’s presence when we worship and relate at Our Community Place (OCP), and for lots of non-Sunday face-to-face interactions.
Before the coronavirus hit, we had already begun the deep and painful grappling regarding our need for a place other than OCP for Sunday worship. But COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that we will not be able to interact in that space as we have in the past.
We are thankful that we are well into the process of securing a new worship location and, just as significantly, that a faithful cadre of Early Church folks have continued to take responsibility for Sunday lunch, continuing to be present among this particularly vulnerable group of people.
As soon as restrictions began to be mandated, we tried to think creatively about the opportunity afforded all of us to be actively involved in nurturing spiritual health within our community. Our first innovations occurred around Holy Week, including home-based reenactments of Palm Sunday and a progressive Resurrection Day proclamation, in which we played joyful heralds, carrying the good news from one home to the next.
Leaders began putting more energy into our beautifully crafted weekly newsletter, blessing us with artwork, songs, and a plethora of lectionary-based resources, pertinent reflections and stories.
Although there are huge challenges in being isolated, families with young children have been grateful for the freedom to discover their own family discipleship rhythms. Families with older children began using the Discovery Bible Study structure, experiencing surprisingly dynamic times of engaging with scriptures, with every member contributing. One cluster of families began using DBS for a meaningful Sunday morning Zoom connection.
For many of the Early Church women, grieving the limitations of face-to-face opportunities, and tired of Zoom, a physically-distanced camp out on a community member’s farm was a highlight. Another recent highlight was an all-church gathering at Wildwood Park in Bridgewater, Va., on Father’s Day, likely our only gathering of the summer. It was a glorious testimony to us all that God’s movement has not been restricted!
A JMU physics student from Richmond had had a life-changing encounter with God in January when he met members of the Early Church community on campus, holding signs and inviting conversations about faith. Since then, the discipleship process has continued. He was baptized at the Wildwood Park and received into membership, with both parents present to affirm his commitments.
On the same day, two others were also received into membership: a delightful young woman whose journey with us began when she was simply looking for a meal at OCP, and a French-speaking Muslim-background Congolese man whose broken life is being turned around by Jesus.
Given the realities of our cultural moment, it does not escape our notice that all three are persons are black. In welcoming these three, Ken Wettig said what needed to be said—in acknowledgement of and repentance for the church’s complicity in racism and failure to be a reflection of God’s heart for all. We simply praise God for what God is doing in our midst.