Three final reasons why, even in the midst of COVID we might want to continue seeking to engage in this curious enterprise we call “church”:

4.  Opening – We gather in church in order to aim at the deepest and most mysterious transaction of which human beings are capable. We gather in order to support one another in the vulnerable practice of opening our hearts more fully and more deeply. As we open to this reality we open to the sacred nature of all life and are empowered to live more holy lives in relationship to all of creation.

We gather because we believe God uses physical things to help open us to a deeper awareness of the intangible hidden realm that permeates all existence. The softening and opening of our hearts is supported by the sound of music, by voices raised in prayer and the reading of sacred texts. We are encouraged to see the divine in bread and wine, in light refracted through stained glass and in the physical presence of other people who gather to acknowledge the deep hidden mystery of life.

Opening is a counter-intuitive gesture in our world that is bent upon self-protection and self-promotion. But opening is the fundamental act of faith. We gather in church in order that we might support one another in becoming more vulnerable to the divine Presence in all people and in all of creation. This happens most deeply in the company of other people who may or may not feel equally drawn to opening. Church is a place where we get to practice opening to life more fully and to the risk of being seen and known.

5. Connection – Church is a physical manifestation of the reality that all the diverse manifestations of the divine are deeply connected. Difference is not separation; it is a reflection of the extraordinary creativity and vitality at the heart of creation.

Human beings belong together, not because we are all the same, all look alike or all share the same interests or the same socio-economic status. Our belonging does not depend upon sharing precisely the same beliefs or worldview.

Church offers me the opportunity to live lovingly with those I may have no particular interest in loving, those who cannot in any way benefit me or flatter my ego by their response to my love.

We belong together because we are united by our common humanity. At the deepest level of what it means to be human, we are one with all other human beings and with all of creation. Connection is not some vague abstract idea or merely a philosophical concept. It is a truth that needs to be lived, a reality that only becomes fully realized when it is embodied with other specific human beings in particular places at a particular time.

It is important to come together because our awareness of connection is deepened by the practice of gathering in some form that physically manifests the oneness that lies at the core of life. We need a particular location to embody the reality of oneness in order that we may continue to grow in our respect for the deep invisible bonds that form the richness of the intricate web of life.

John the Gospel writer says that, “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), not just part of the world, but every aspect of “the world”. Love for “the world” is indiscriminate; it makes no distinctions. Love for “the world” is not based on merit or shared interests.

I will not learn to love “the world” the way God loves “the world” by confining myself to situations that I always find comfortable and by only associating with like-minded people to whom I feel naturally drawn or biologically obliged. Church needs to be a messy conglomerate of people who gather simply because they affirm that we are united by the divine transcendence at the heart of all life. This is where we grow in our experience of that deep connection we call “love”.

6. Service – “Church” of course does not end in the pew. “Church” extends out beyond the doors of the building into the world. We gather in order that we might be sent.

We are sent into the world to do as Jesus did. We go out into the world to live as witnesses to the reality of transcendence and connection. We go to live as people of love in service to all those who come across our paths, seeking to create opening spaces for the flourishing of all life forms. We go to support all people in seeing that there is life beyond the clutter of forms and that true meaning and value reside in connecting within ourselves with that deep inner reality.

We need church to remind us of this vision and to hold before us the challenge living as Christ in “the world”.

Church exists to call us back again and again to that deep challenge of serving every manifestation of creation. It is too easy to forget that the connection which is our deepest nature is a bond we share with every aspect of life. Church seeks to embody the truth that there is no division. All life is one. It is hard to embody this deep truth in isolation. We need other people and specific physical locations to which we are willing to commit in order to give flesh to the oneness that is our deepest nature.

All these things make it seem to me, as we emerge at least for a time from a season of physical isolation, that we may want take seriously the possibility that we may indeed need this curious enterprise we call “church”.