The title of this column is not my own. In fact, neither is its substance, though I very much agree with its sentiment. You see, I have been listening with keen interest to the debate regarding reopening the churches and have been somewhat surprised to learn many people, including President Donald Trump, equate a house of worship with God’s “church.” As a Catholic, and more importantly as a Christian, I have always believed the kingdom of God is within us and transcends any physical structure. However, I struggled this week to find words to meaningfully express this. Since I am unable to adequately rise to the challenge, I happily and gratefully defer to someone more skilled and effective: Pastor Dave Simpson from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland, who has very kindly allowed me to publish his Open Letter to the President. Please thoughtfully read the following and take this very powerful truth to heart.
An Open Letter to the President
You have declared that churches are to be reopened.
My church has never been closed.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of "church." A church is not a building. The church is the people of God called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church. This virus has certainly not stopped the church from being what we have been called to be - the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. The people of God who are Good Shepherd Lutheran Church have continued to care for each other and reach out to the community and beyond.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of "worship." Worship is not only - or even especially - what happens in a church building on Sunday mornings. Worship defines us as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to worship the God who creates and saves us with everything that we do and everything that we are. We worship our God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Our building may be closed, but we are still the church and we have not stopped worshiping. God has blessed us with new and enhanced ways to be church together as even technology has been sanctified (set apart for God's use) for accomplishing the mission that has been laid before us.
Our building will be open again - when the time is right. It will be open again when we can gather in a way that does not put our members or our neighbors at unnecessary risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our building will open when we have a plan that manages the risk and we have the resources to put that plan into action.
When our building opens, it will be to glorify God, not to make any secular or political point or to advance any agenda, nor will it be to assert our "rights." Our responsibility to our neighbors is always greater than any rights we may have.
Until then, we will go on being church. We will go on worshiping online and, more importantly, in our community and in the world.
We are the church.
We are, and will remain, open.
Pastor Dave Simpson
My thanks to Pastor Dave for letting me reprint his letter here. My thanks to my sister, who sent it to me in the first place. My thanks to the good Lord who led me to these words that so beautifully express what I had hoped to say. Please share Pastor Simpson’s letter. The more people who hear this message, the more who will hopefully abide by it. God’s church is not a building! “We are the church. We are, and will remain, open!”