Ministry in the Time of COVID-19
Pictured: Youth leader extraordinaire David Gilbert (right) with leader-in-training Robert Silcox.
That title sounds like it belongs to a science fiction novel, one that would open, “It all started while the world was still spinning but suddenly came to a halt. It seemed that all social mores were lost as the gravity of the pandemic gripped the once bustling planet. A silent planet it became, for the noise of machine and man came to a rest. Birds once forgotten could be heard as if brand new, and families once separated by the tyranny of busyness were secluded into their homes by the sudden rush of stillness. They were forced to create a new pattern of normal.”
The protagonist in the story, often the outcast and considered weird by society, felt a sense of grief and pain as if he had lost his best friend. “Lord, what on earth am I to do if my goal is relationships and sharing life with young people––and I can’t meet them face to face?” the youth leader shouted loudly into the prayer-filled night.
“Be creative! You’re an artist, not a scientist––use the palate and create new vistas of joy!" said the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth. "That is why I called you to be a youth pastor in the first place!”
“Good point––creativity is the mark of invention and will propel us forward in this new level of weird, which we will have to call normal for a while!” said the protagonist, with a smile in his heart.
Youth ministry at St. Philip’s heeded God’s word and got creative. We ran the gamut with Zoom meetings, social media, socially distanced small-group outdoor gatherings, and of course the proclamation of God’s Holy Word! We had a Stations of the Cross Zoom on Good Friday, we played bocce ball in backyards, and we laughed and created a new joy in the midst of chaos. That became our theme for this year: “Make a joyful noise!” Fear, virus, murder hornets, civil unrest, global unrest, and missed proms, sporting events, graduations, etc. can’t hinder the joy of the Lord, because that, my friends, is our strength! It is in fact what kept this old 17-year veteran of the youth ministry in the trenches during the outbreak battle.
We are back in session at church with new protocols in place, and the kids keep coming Friday and Sunday nights (with masks on––making it hard to see their smiles) to cling to the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ. We preach boldly “in season and out of season,” virus or no virus, the Gospel and the Hope of Jesus! He shatters lies and despair at every youth group and replaces it with joy! The kids don’t come to get a handshake or a high five (which we can’t do anymore)––they come because they get told the unchanging truth. In a constantly changing society that creates new social mores on a whim, in a world that spins on in wars, riots, and fear, and to a culture that is full of self, these kids come to hear that self-denial, picking up your cross, and following Jesus is the only way to ever be normal in an upside-down kingdom.
By the way, in case you are wondering how the sci-fi novel “Ministry in the Time of COVID-19” ends, here is the last paragraph.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts."