How much ministry can you really do without actually being with people? This may seem like an odd question to ask, but it has certainly become a very real question in these days of COVID-19 concerns and shelter-in-place orders. It has been very challenging to change paradigms for worship and ministry over the last couple months and to be forced to try to ministry to people from a distance.
Like many churches, we have been livestream broadcasting our worship services (without people in the pews) since mid-March and have been conducting our Bible classes and business meetings through Zoom. Throughout this same period of time, we have also been sending out an email newsletter twice a week and have been posting a message of one kind or another (including devotional videos) on our St. Michael Facebook page every day.
The Return to Old-Fashioned Ways of Communicating
In the midst of all these newer ways of communicating and ministering, the quarantine has caused us to return to some old-fashioned ways of communicating and ministering that many people appreciate and require. In May we printed out some 400 copies of our monthly Mighty Messenger newsletter and snail-mailed it to all our households. We also have found the telephone is still a great way to reach out and touch people with expressions of Christian care and concern. Likewise, sending people greeting cards and letters in the mail has been a great source of comfort and encouragement for many, especially those who are computer illiterate. It’s been very sad to have to cross off so many events from our church calendar, special times we would have enjoyed being together face to face, but it need not stop us from being a blessing to each other as we continue to communicate in creative ways, both old and new.
A Parallel Situation in the Bible
This return of ministry by mail brings to mind St. Paul’s captivity letters. He was not quarantined on account of a virus or plague, but he was imprisoned on account of his ministry. To some extent, his imprisonment was religious persecution for his message of Christ. But sometimes he was put into prison for his protection. Yes, Paul was sheltered-in-place by the Roman government lest he fall victim to mob violence perpetrated by Jewish leaders who resented his message of inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s Kingdom. Such was the case in Acts 23 when Paul was “kept under guard in Herod’s palace” in Caesarea until he could be tried by the Roman governor Felix. As “a favor to the Jews,” Felix kept Paul in prison for two years until he was succeeded by Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27). Before Festus, Paul appealed to Caesar and eventually was under house arrest in Rome.
The last verse of Acts tells us, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30–31). While tradition tells us that he was eventually released and went on further mission trips (perhaps as far as Spain) before again being imprisoned in Rome prior to his execution there, it was during this initial Roman imprisonment that he wrote what are known as his prison epistles (i.e., Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon). In them he calls himself a “prisoner of the Lord” (Ephesians 4:1) but also writes of how the Gospel continues to be hard at work as “in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing” and it continues to be “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:6, 23).
The Gospel is Not Bound
So if St. Paul could continue to communicate the Gospel and change lives even while he was in prison, then we too, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can continue to be a blessing to people even while we are sheltered in place. Certainly, it requires that we get creative, learn some new things, and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. But our “imprisonment” need not mean that the Gospel is bound. Now more than ever, let us pray together the old Collect for the Church: Almighty God, grant to Your Church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, so that in steadfast faith we may serve You and, in the confession of Your name, abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Photo (c) Courtney Hale/iStock