Remembering the ‘Can’t Comes’
In the excitement of re-gathering, we must not forget those who would love to re-gather but cannot.
In each congregation, there will be those who are not able to return to in-person gatherings after lockdown because of age, shielding (themselves or loved ones), clinical vulnerability, or some other reason. Maybe they can’t attend because there isn’t the capacity in your church building with social distancing in place.
Some of these may also have no internet capability, increasing their isolation from the church family both online and now gathering in-person.
Paul urges the Thessalonians: “warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). “The weak” includes those who are physically infirm or ill. According to Scripture, we must not neglect their care.
Their care matters to the Head of the Church and should matter to us as well. How sad if we were to give the impression that “out of sight” is “out of mind”!
Richard Lacey distinguished two categories of people to consider in a recent Leadership in Lockdown webinar: the ‘can comes’ and the ‘can’t comes’. What can we do to support and encourage the ‘can’t comes’ - those who cannot gather?
Take interest in their circumstances
In John 10 the Lord Jesus - the Chief Shepherd - says he knows his sheep. As under-shepherds of his flock, we should take time to know the circumstances of the flock who are unable to attend.
This means seeking to understand the particular pressures they experience as, for them, the lockdown continues. It will shape our prayers for them, both private and public.
Prioritise regular contact with those who cannot attend
As the wider congregation start to regather, those we see will so easily fill our thoughts and actions.
Why not set aside one afternoon each week to phone or visit those who cannot attend? You could share congregational news; let them ask questions about how things are going; ask them how the gathered congregation might pray for them; share with them how they might pray for the church family.
You could also arrange for others to make contact on a Sunday after the gathering. If they had been able to watch the live stream, chat as you might do after a normal church service. Or if they have no internet, share a summary of what happened and what was taught.
Help them feel included in the physical gathering
The demographic of each congregation will shape the focus of their Sunday gathering.
Some have decided to focus on those physically gathered while recognising that others will be watching online. Others have decided that they will focus on the camera, with those gathered more like the studio audience of a TV show.
For those who cannot come, the loving thing will be to have elements of the service that show that it includes them. For example, pre-record scripture readings, the children’s talk, prayers, or a song so that those at home are sharing in that part of the service in the same way as those in the church building.
In this way, someone shielding could be asked to take part and be seen. It would also be good to refer to those who cannot come in the welcome and prayers.
There may be other imaginative ways to include those who are shielding. One church planned a communion service and included outside space in their yard for those who couldn’t enter the building for health reasons - which was much appreciated.
Consider keeping some activities online
Keeping some activities online means that the whole church can share in them in the same way as each other.
For example, as things develop there may be ways that prayer meetings and small groups could start to meet again. But if those who cannot otherwise come have been sharing in the prayer meeting or small group via Zoom, the loving thing to do may well be to continue online for their sake.
Scripture urges us to be sympathetic and compassionate to one another. Taking time to consider the impact of what we do on others is an act of Christ-like love.
Remind them that the Lord has not forgotten them
After helping the chief cupbearer, the cupbearer did not remember Joseph and he remained in prison for two full years more. But the Lord had not forgotten Joseph and he has not forgotten his people who are unable to gather.
As we seek to serve them, let’s make sure that we keep pointing them to the living Lord who purchased them with his blood, and who has promised never to leave them nor forsake them.