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Faith is not a Place: Church is a living body of people who gather in empathy, mercy, love, and justice

The President has said that he wants all churches to be open by Easter. That isn’t necessary. He doesn’t know what the Church is, or he’d speak differently. It isn’t him alone, of course. Many people who talk about the Church miss what’s always been true, even many Christians.

The Church has never had anything to do with geography. It was never a building, never a fixed, physical location you visited for an hour on Sunday. That’s far too small a space to fit the vast and sprawling life it produces. The Church has always been the people who gather together to do the work of compassion and mercy and love and justice, regardless of where and when they gather.

They are living, breathing, animated sanctuaries who house divinity. In these terrifying, draining, disorienting moments, the Church is doing what it was always supposed to do:

Exhausted healthcare workers are on the front lines, boldly living out sacrificial love of strangers.

Courageous first responders are daily placing themselves in harm’s way to care for their neighbors as themselves.

Grocery store employees are working tirelessly to fill ever-emptying shelves so that hungry people can have their daily bread.

Faith communities, nonprofits, and charities are rallying people and marshaling resources and redirecting energies to continue to love the least of these.

Heroic teachers are feverishly finding creative ways to shepherd well the children in their care, without physical proximity.

Emotionally and physically taxed parents are contenting with a swirling storm of fierce worries and unabated terrors, while being a calm, steady, gentle reminder to their children that they are beloved and they needn’t fear.

These are not all people of faith, but many are—and those people are being the Church now as much as ever, with the embodied hymns of and exhaled prayers and walking sermons that rise up in the brutal trenches of this life, when the compassionate love of Jesus is incarnated in their work and their words.

These things cannot be relegated to one place for one hour, they are the expansive holy ground of hospital rooms and store aisles and makeshift closet computer workspaces and dining room tables and wooded paths. They are the tiny yet mighty acts of goodness that no worship service can create or contain.

Whatever the work of Jesus was and is, doesn’t require permission to begin and it is not beholden to any politician’s decree and it isn’t waiting quietly in a building to be unlocked and released—which is the greatest news for people of faith and morality and conscience who feel burdened to heal and feed and encourage and unite. That is happening in these very moments.

And that’s the beautiful truth of these dark days: even in the middle of a terrifying pandemic, even when schedules are interrupted, even when chaos is ever-present, even when people are scattered, even when buildings filled with chairs and pews and class rooms are closed—the Church is still the Church and love is still love.

Every day is Easter for those who are willing to see it. There is always life breaking through, always restoration happening, always resurrection taking place, always glorious rebirth happening, always miracles in our midst.

If people who claim Christianity really want to care for our neighbors and we’re really committed to loving the least and we’re truly burdened to heal the wounds of the world, we’ll keep the religious buildings closed for as long as the doctors and scientists tell us to. We won’t worry about timetables or deadlines because they are of little use.

The Church doesn’t need to be open by Easter. The Church is already open.

John Pavlovitz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

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About The Author

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a 20-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus, both online in this global community.