The second chapter of the Book of Acts, which describes the worship experience and practices of the early church, illustrates the fulfilment that comes from worshipping together, and the many ways the celebration of faith is physical, material and incarnational. The faithful members of the early church,
…devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people (Acts 2:42–47a).
When we gather in person in sacred spaces to worship, we eat, drink and sing together. We long to see and greet one another face to face, and to reach out for the bread, the wine, and for each other.
Physical distancing and other public health directives have interrupted or halted many of our regular worship practices and community activities. While we yearn to put this time of physical separation behind us and return to the familiar practice of gathering in person as a congregation, it is vital that Sessions carefully develop and implement re-opening plans that are appropriately tailored to the unique context and texture of each congregation and its ministries.
Acts 2 reminds us of the great care that members of the early church had for the physical needs of each other within the context of their worship and praise of God. The planning that Sessions do in preparation to return to physical assemblies is an important act of pastoral care. In addition to consulting and following all health and safety regulations, Sessions and ministers will want to engage in theological reflection and think through pastoral care concerns carefully in their re-opening planning. Taking time to consider the needs of the congregation is, in itself, a means of honouring God’s creation and love of all people. We belong to God and are made in the divine image of God. It is not only right, but our duty to carefully discern what is best for the community before acting.