Social Justice, Distributed Church, and Pandemic: What To Do When The Church Can’t “Meet”

Social Justice, Distributed Church, and Pandemic: What To Do When The Church Can’t “Meet” March 28, 2020

I’m going to keep this short and simple, because none of us are operating at full capacity right now, responding as we are to so many daily and hourly changes, but also because I hope it will increase the chances we can all implement these suggestions.

There are no power-user tips here. If you want pro insights for video editing software or the best strategies for live-streaming, there are sites for that. This is going to be lo-fi, simple, and immediate, all focused on information-sharing, ready-made resources, DIY access, distributed church, and the presence of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s start with what you already have at hand:

Everyone already has…

  1. CDC Guidance: Remember our first call as the church is, like doctors, to do no harm. Make sure your community is sharing the best and most current advice from the CDC for faith-based organizations.  Also, we need to have cogent arguments dissecting the dangerous theology of faith-leaders arguing against social distancing.
  2. Prayer: I can confess that maintaining good focus and practices for prayer is difficult at any time, but even more difficult during a time of struggle and distraction. But we have available to us always the opportunity to join with Christ in prayer, who is himself always interceding with us before God… and the Holy Spirit, she strengthens and deepens such prayers.
  3. Scripture: Normally during the season of Lent, our congregation hosts a catechumenate for those new to our community and Christian faith. We gather each Sunday evening to study Scripture, and we remind the community that the people of God have all they need when they have Scripture, themselves, and the Holy Spirit. There the Word of God is living and active. All the more important to remember we have this Scripture available everywhere, translated into every language, in multiple volumes in our homes (on average) and easily downloadable to our phones.
  4. Each other: In our congregation, we’ve enacted a system inviting each page of our directory to check in with others on their page each weekend. We of course all have natural connections and links to neighbors and families, but this formal process of texting and calling is a way to ensure even those with varying levels of social connection are connecting to each other during a time greater than usual social isolation.
  5. Reach out to your already existing COADs and VOADs, check their web sites and social media profiles to see how you can align with the ways they are assisting.

Think about accessibility, who is left out?

  1. One of the best early articles on social distancing and social justice is at Wired magazine. For those who are struggling to know how to maintain (and apply) the strong movements for justice that have been organizing throughout this period, and maintain such movements during the pandemic, I recommend the Wired article.
  2. Look to past resources that have studied social justice in relationship to previous flu outbreaks and the potential for pandemic, like this Social Justice in Pandemic Preparedness article at the National Library of Medicine.
  3. In your faith community, recognize that before the pandemic and calls for quarantine, many likely struggled with access to the church, whether that was lack of transportation, lack of social media connection, or other basic access needs. Now, under quarantine, this lack of access has expanded for some, possibly for many, and the inequities will increase as unemployment rises, and the divide deepens between those who can readily social distance while working, and those who can’t, for a wide variety of reasons.
  4. No better planning resource has been published thus far than the piece by Ed Stetzer over at Christianity Today. Read through it with your leadership team, and make your own plans. Another recent piece on effective leadership at CIO is also worth some attention.

Church as a distributed network

  1. Church is everywhere, and doesn’t need to be centered or top-down. Although this is the way we can and should be thinking, and various movements throughout church history have attempted to emphasize it (the Lutheran priesthood of all believers, famously), the reality is we have still historically centered on the institutional church, and the ministry of the clergy.
  2. Now by necessity the church is more everywhere than ever, although it may be we have not prepared for this moment as well as we could. This is probably the result of contributions from leadership and the people themselves. I’ll confess, I have sometimes failed to equip the saints for the work of ministry as best I could. I think we can also recognize the people of God aren’t always as engaged in reading Scripture and the works of mercy as they could be. So the pandemic becomes a wake up call for everyone.
  3. What are some concrete examples of what people of faith can do that will distribute the church in concrete ways now, starting today? I’ll conclude with a top ten list of the best practices I’m seeing put in place, hoping they’ll inspire even more creativity and action.
    • People are using video technology to share simple videos of themselves reading the Bible for kids, singing songs of praise, or even just teaching their neighbors how to harvest wild food.
    • The Little Free Pantry movement is encouraging simple, DIY ways to get food pantries up and running in any location.
    • Make sure you are taking all the right precautions yourself and as a household. Social distance. Wash your hands. Stay home as much as possible. If you are in an essential job, be wise and strong, and if you’re not, find ways to support those who are. They’re anxious and over-worked right now.
    • Rest. Take naps. Care for yourself as you care for others. Remember that Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves, which means self-love is important, in every situation.
    • Check in with each other and use new tools available to continue those parts of faith community you value. Use Zoom for Bible study and Sunday school, or go old school and create a Sunday school letter-writing, penpal system in your parish. Have kids and Sunday school teachers text or e-mail back and forth.
    • Some people are extra isolated right now. Send letters to people in prison, make phone calls to people in nursing homes and care facilities. Send them art. Stop by their building and wave through a window.
    • This one will sound a little funny, but consider it. Instead of going to your faith community and asking the leader, “How can I help?” instead take a walk, brainstorm one thing you want to do, and message to let them know, “God put it on my heart to do this!” This shifts leaders from being gatekeepers or bottlenecks and instead simply makes them aware as networkers.
    • Find time to not do anything at all. Simply reflect on what has been changing, and what we can all learn from it. This can be a moment for turns of heart.
    • Join advocacy movements. Check in on the social justice organizing movements you supported prior to the pandemic, and see what they’re working on right now. Guaranteed they’re struggling to find their footing also, and can use your support.
    • Sing. The Italians have led the way on this, singing from their balconies. Sing some songs. Use your lungs. If so inspired, turn them into Tik Toks or short videos to share with your church.
    • Be a good neighbor. Remember the greatest commandment wasn’t be especially spiritual, but to love your neighbor. There are amazing ways to love your neighbor available right now, from tipping servers more when you drive through at a coffee shop, to giving blood, to sharing some of your extra toilet paper.

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