In Toronto we are required by our Public Health authorities to wear face masks and to stay 2m apart from one another as much as possible. Face masks and physical distance from our friends is an interruption to the ways we are used to fellowshipping in our culture. I come from a hand-shaking, hugging, back-slapping, shoulder-grabbing kind of church. We like each other and we are trying really hard to love each other. So, being told to cover our faces and not touch each other can feel like it is a direct prohibition against fellowship. That is certainly not the case though! There are many cultures where physical touch is not engaged and face coverings are normal. And those folks can still fellowship. I am sure of this, in part, because there are no Bible verses that say, “Hug the guy in the pew beside you.”
“Ah,” you might counter, “what about those commands to, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss?’”
A fine question. How were you doing that pre-COVID? Were you kissing everyone every week? My father-in-law came from a tradition that practised this. The men kissed the men. The women kissed the women. Every week. But, I doubt that was your church. In all likelihood, if there was any following of this imperative, it was recognized that the kiss was a culturally-relevant way of greeting. And, your pastors likely said something like, “Let’s greet one another in a culturally-relevant way.” Hence, the hand-shaking, hugging, back-slapping, and shoulder-grabbing.
But those culturally normal ways (to us) have been interfered with by a mandate from our governing authority. Does that mean we are breaking a Bible command if we do not touch or we do cover our faces? Absolutely not. I think the real issue is how creative we are willing to be and how much we are willing to have our comfortable cultural habits disrupted in order to obey the real commands.
I count forty or so “one another” commands in the New Testament. There are lots of things I ought be doing toward my fellow church members. None of those commands demand I hug or shake hands with anyone, but they do tell me to love, live in harmony with, care for, instruct, bear with, admonish, agree with, encourage, exhort, do good to, be humble toward, and not speak evil about one another. And I can do all of that (and more!) with a mask on. Or, for that matter, with a mask off, when I am not inside a Toronto building.
But, this is Toronto. It gets cold here in the winter and that winter is fast approaching. So, one day I decided to jot down in my journal a bunch of ways to love my fellow church members in a mediated fashion… to love them through a mask and while staying 2m apart. In no particular order, here is my list. Perhaps you can add to it!
- Talk outside in small groups while maintaining 2m distance.
- If your home does not include people at greater risk, invite people over in smaller groups that stay within the mandated gathering limits.
- Write letters to other members. For years Christians fellowshipped in this way and we are at a loss for not keeping it up.
- Use FaceTime or Zoom or whatever even if you hate them. This does not have to be a big deal. Maybe email a member from directory that you do not know well and ask them for 15 minutes to connect, get to know each other a little better and then pray for them.
- Pray more for other church members. It was my habit pre-Covid to pray for four fellow members a day. Once Covid hit, I upped that to 8. Now, I am routinely praying for those 8, plus another group of six and then other special requests. And I love it!
- Never miss church. This seems so simple to me, but how on earth does anyone expect to grow in fellowship by staying home when they do not have to? If there was ever a time to never miss church, this is it!
- Contact those who cannot come to church. Make a list of shut-ins or wanderers and just start calling them. It is not that hard. It does not need to be a one hour talk. Just contact people. Ask how you can pray for them. Pray for them over the phone.
- Start a formal discipleship relationship. This has been super-encouraging at Grace Fellowship Church. We revamped our small groups and such and have had the majority of our members get in one of these relationships. Some have gotten into several. Again, don’t overthink these things. Just get with someone and let John Murray or DA Carson or Nancy Guthrie or Jerry Bridges or Kathleen Nielson or Tim Challies disciple you (with their book).
- Every week at Grace Fellowship Church we include Truth Application Questions in our paper handout. If your church has something like this, turn to the person near you at the end of a service and ask, “Want to answer these questions with me?” Or call a friend mid-week and ask the same. Decide you are going to be a conversation-starter.
- Give a gift to a random member of the church. One sister told me of how another sister just dropped off a baked good at her house. It was monumental in its significance.
- Call one member per week and ask if you can pray for them over the phone.
Okay, there is a start and I need to go home for dinner and some fellowship with my family. But, you can add to this list. There are many ways to grow together in the Lord even when our faces are covered. Are you willing to be creative?