In the face of a potential second wave of COVID-19, I read with interest on the BBC website on Friday that Boris Johnson was putting lockdown easing on hold in England. One of the measures was the requirement that those attending places of worship would be required to wear face coverings.
As a church pastor, a number of thoughts crossed my mind. There will have been some churches that returned to gathered Sunday worship in July. What would they be thinking about this? What would be their next steps? Will they battle on with the face coverings or will they decide to temporarily close Sunday gatherings? Then there are other churches I know of who were considering opening up services in September. How would these new measures impact their decision-making?
We are clearly in a season of many fluctuations. Just when many are thinking that we are returning to some sense of normal, here is another reverberation to contend with. How should the church respond at such a time? What should church leaders prioritise?
As I reflected upon all of this, I found myself drawn to the Book of Daniel for answers, and particularly to chapter 1, verse 8, which reads: ‘But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.’
This is a very familiar verse to many. Daniel, along with others, has been led into captivity by the Babylonians. Here they were, stripped of their identity, with their names being changed. Here they were being forced into embracing a new world and a new culture with different beliefs and practices.
But note, how Daniel responds. He ‘resolves’ not to defile himself with the royal food and drink – and I believe it is in this particular stance that we can glean much for navigating the next steps.
Like Daniel, many of us as pastors and leaders have felt removed from the world we once belonged to and stripped of our identities. None of us entered the ministry to be Zoom priests! And like Daniel and his friend, we are living at a time where we can’t make long-term decisions as everyone waits to see how this virus is going to pan out. Now in this new world we find ourselves in, like them, we need to be a people who are resolved to please God at all costs. Because we have hope. Hope in doing right by God and not the world. Hope in choosing to please Him and Him alone.
I don’t know what you will feel is best to do in your church context – to delay opening or press ahead – but at all costs, make it your ultimate priority to obey His voice to you. For many church leaders there will be the temptation to bow to human pressure. ‘Keep the church building open,’ some might say, or, ‘Close down,’ will be the message from others. There will undoubtedly be many opinions and views on navigating the future, and fears of how this will impact congregations. In all of this it will be so easy for God’s view to be sidelined.
And yet God calls us to please Him. Please Him in obeying Him. Please Him in doing His will.
As we look to Daniel, we can see that there is huge blessing for those who determine to please God. At the end of the ten days trial abstaining from the King’s food, Daniel and the others who chose not to eat the royal food and wine were healthier than those who ate it. God bestowed a physical blessing upon them – but that is not all. In chapter 1, verse 17, it says: ‘To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.’
If anything should inspire you to strive to please God in these days, hopefully this will. For Daniel, the blessing was wisdom, insight and discernment, three things we most desperately need in navigating the next steps that this tremor has caused.
Let’s be a people who come to the end of making our own decisions. Let’s be a people who, masked or unmasked, gathered in person or online, resolutely resolve to take the posture that we will endeavour by His grace to please God throughout every pulsation that this pandemic brings.
Help us, God, to seek and surrender to Your will.
Manoj Raithatha is the Pastor of Pinner Baptist Church. He is married to Maria and together they have two children, Chandni and Ishaan.