Posted: 3/26/20 at 11:30am. Written by Jim Somerville.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
That’s the verse I’ve been quoting in this time of crisis, as the whole world practices “social distancing” in an effort to “flatten the curve,” and those of us in ministry close the doors of our churches and seek new ways to be faithful.
It hasn’t been easy.
In a Facebook group titled “What they didn’t teach me in seminary” one pastor summed it up in a single sentence: “Everything that’s happened in the last week.” Another quipped that trying to be a pastor in a time of global pandemic is like, “trying to run a hundred-yard dash while wearing a blindfold.”
At Richmond’s First Baptist Church the decisions we made based on the information we had at the moment often gave way to information that appeared in the next moment. The situation wasn’t changing by the day; it was changing by the hour. I’m writing this devotional on Sunday morning, March 22. I don’t know if it will still be relevant by the time you read it.
But here’s something that will:
Jesus once said that the most important thing in the world is to love God and love others, and if you could sum up the mission statement of any church in four words it would probably be that: Love God. Love Others. What I’m realizing is that the threat of coronavirus does not keep us from loving God. If anything we can go deeper in our spiritual practice.
I’ve been reading through the Bible this year in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message. Lately I’ve been in the Book of Job, and Peterson’s gift for poetry makes that book come alive in a way it never has before. I find that I’m disappointed when I get to the end of my day’s readings and have to stop. We could read the Bible more in these days. We could pray more. We could depend on God in ways we never have and love God more as a result.
And the threat of COVID-19 does not keep us from loving others. We have to do it differently than we used to. We can’t hug each other, or shake hands, or “greet one another with a holy kiss.” But we can reach out to those who might be home alone in this time of quarantine. We can write letters and make phone calls. And
with a little patience and practice we might even be able to Skype and FaceTime and Zoom.
Here’s what we’re learning at my church, and probably yours as well. The church is not the building: it is the faithful followers of Jesus Christ, given life by the Heavenly Father, given breath through the Holy Spirit, and joined to one another in a network of love that is absolutely virus-proof.
So, have no fear, little flock. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Jim Somerville is Senior Pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.