Our congregation is still recovering and healing from the affects of Covid. In March of 2020 it was a huge unknown which forced much of the world to come to a grinding halt. The ministry of Trinity did not - it never will. Our doors never closed though our Sunday school was empty and our Sanctuary was nearly so. At the beginning it wasn’t unusual to have 10-20 people worshiping in person on a Sunday. By June of 2020 things were starting to get back toward normal and attendance was heading in the right direction as people started to return by trusting the safety measures we had put in place to make worship as safe as possible. Our video ministry filled and fills a need but it was, and continues to be, no substitute.
Sadly, while the numbers were going in the right direction they plateaued well below our past averages and haven’t moved significantly for quite some time. On the surface, if you were to look around on a Sunday morning you would have the impression that we were back to normal. But, if you look more closely, you will see empty spots in pews, the Fellowship Hall, and Sunday school rooms that used to be occupied by our Christian brothers and sister.
The pastors and Board of Elders have been working diligently - contacting, inviting, encouraging - to get these missing brothers and sisters to return. A very few of these long-time absent folks have returned through this inviting. Many of them though much more sporadically than before. Some of them not at all. Too many have entered the realm of self-exclusion from the Body of Christ. Our constitution states, “it is inconsistent that a person can be considered a member of this Christian Congregation without regular use of Word and Sacrament unless there are physical reasons which keep a person from being part of the church assembly.” Covid is no longer a “physical reason” unless a doctor has specifically told a person to avoid all human interaction. Therefore, this is very troubling for the good of their souls.
However, thankfully there is healing and there is recovery that is very evident. Those who have returned (and those who never left) are experiencing the love of Christ in their full exercise of participation in the Divine Service. With the loving and diligent efforts of the boards of Education and Evangelism we are having wonderful times of fellowship every month which is restoring our family relationship as the Body of Christ in this place. I personally commend to God the members of both of these boards and their enthusiastic and hard-working chairs and we should all thank them for their service in our healing and restoration.
Every face we see again, every encounter with the Lord by Word and Sacrament, every laugh shared over a potluck, every child hearing about their Savior, every adult growing deeper in the Word is a precious gift from God’s grace.
In my talks with pastors of other LCMS congregations and looking at the situations of churches of other denominations our situation is not unique. Our average Sunday attendance is about two-thirds pre-Covid. That seems to be the best case for most other churches as well. Our healing and recovery is better than most - Praise God! But that doesn’t mean we accept this “new normal,” that we accept the empty pews and seats. Without regular worship, regular reception of the means of grace through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, regular study of and reception of God’s Holy Word then faith will grow cold. Faith can die all together. This is unacceptable.
Enjoy how good God has been to us. Revel in the renewed fellowship. Take your own opportunity to participate in Word and Sacrament. If you’ve never left - Praise God! If you’ve returned - Praise God! If you’ve returned but are not as regular as you were or should be (every Sunday unless you’re sick or working at a critical profession) then pray God gives you the strength of His Spirit to put into your heart a burning love and need to be present in His Divine Service, to heed His call to be in His Word, to receive His gift to you of the food of immortality in the Holy Supper. If you haven’t returned, you need to! It’s past time! For the rest of us, look past the surface. Look at the reality of souls in need of our support that need to fill that empty pew or seat. Reach out. Invite, encourage, exhort. Personally aid the healing and restoration. Love your Trinity family.