The words of a familiar song echo in my head these days: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.” It’s true isn’t it? Sometimes you don’t know how good you have it until something precious gets taken from you.
I know that’s how I felt when church as I knew it had the rug pulled out from under it. In the early days of the pandemic we closed the doors on in-person worship, unsure when we’d be able to safely gather together again.
As the weeks rolled on, I experienced an emptiness I hadn’t known before. It didn’t take long to discover what I had too often taken for granted: fellowship and community.
This Thanksgiving, I’m certainly thankful for a number of things — breath in my lungs, my wife and children, my network of unwavering friends and mentors, and financial provisions. But it’s what was missing for much of the year that I keep thanking God for over and over again these days.
We’ve always said it, in one way or another, how much we need community, encouragement, and connection — the critical elements of a church body. Yet it wasn’t until we felt its absence that we understood these aren’t simply ideals we pay lip service to. The church, and the numerous ways it feeds our spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing, is truly an essential part of life.
I’m thankful for the ways the church responded to help those most affected by our economy coming to a grinding halt earlier this year. Meals, transportation, and phone calls to those isolated and alone were just a few of the ways my friends at Free Chapel were able to be a blessing when things got messy. What’s more, many in our church found ways to continue the ministries we already had in place for the vulnerable in our neighborhoods, with complicated new rules and limitations to take into consideration.
I’m thankful for fellowship with a common purpose. It’s refreshing to gather every Sunday — and other times throughout the week as well — and get some spiritual nourishment, learn from each other, pray with each other, and celebrate with each other. We build upon relationships that have roots far below the surface. We stand alongside (albeit a little more spaced out at the moment) close friends and family and lift our eyes off our problems and instead fix our gaze on the one who sees every tear and wraps us in unfailing love. There is no replacement for this fiercely loved and fiercely loving group of people.
There’s a reason we are told not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” in the Book of Hebrews. It wasn’t simply a rule to follow out of obligation. It was instructed for our benefit. God knew we would need each other, and that we needed to make a good habit of physically being in each other’s presence.
I’m also thankful for the freedom to gather and worship without fear. And I’m thankful for those who see the value in this, who respect our convictions, and protect this most precious human right.
This pandemic caused a lot of pain and frustration to bubble to the surface; but it also brought out the best in my church family. Wherever you worship, and whoever you worship with, I hope you’ve found countless reasons to be thankful in this tumultuous year. And please, don’t ever take church for granted any longer. I promise I won’t either.