The coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruption and chaos around the world. I do not think that any of us have ever seen anything like it.
But there has been some good that has come out of it. I am blessed to still have a job and that means I get to work from home. I also have really increased my walking. I started out a year or so ago seeking to do 10,000 steps a day; I average now between 17,000-20,000 steps a day.
It was when I was out walking one day last week and listening to some good gospel music through my headphones that it hit me. ”I miss church”.
The last time I was in a church that had the normal amount of people in it was February 29, at the Shiloh SDA church in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was at the World Harvest Outreach SDA (WHO) Church in Houston, Texas a few weeks after that but by that time the coronavirus was taking hold of the country. At that point, they were not allowing more than 50 people to assemble.
So, the last time I attended a church with no attendance restrictions, no social-distancing, etc., was two months ago. Who knew when I walked out of the door on that pleasant late winter Sabbath in my home state that that would be the last time in a long time that I would be in a regular church service? I miss church.
Going to church has been a big part of my life for all of my life. I grew up in a very traditional Seventh-day Adventist home in Cleveland, Ohio. My father was a Sabbath School teacher and they had Sabbath School Teachers Meeting every Sabbath, at 8:30 a.m.
We lived 30 minutes away from our church-the old and iconic Glenville SDA Church (they have since moved out of that building and there is no longer a Glenville). That meant, we had to be out of our house by 8:00 a.m. That meant we had to be up by 6:00 a.m., so that my parents, my two sisters, my brother and I could eat breakfast and be dressed and out the door by 8:00 a.m.
That would have been a challenge in a house with multiple bathrooms-we had one. And sometimes, the headcount in our home increased by two, when my grandmother-who rotated between living with us and my aunt in Chicago-was there and my younger cousin-whom she kept.
I have no idea how we did any of that. How eight people were ready to leave for church-every Sabbath-at 8:00 a.m.? But we did-every week.
Then, when I went away to boarding school, I trekked up the hill every Sabbath to church. Going to church at Mt. Vernon Academy was one of several culture shocks that I experienced as a teenager from an all-black urban setting going to an overwhelmingly Caucasian school in a more rural setting.
First, church always ended at noon. In Glenville, I had grown up around great preachers-Elders C.D. Brooks, H.L. Cleveland, Walter Pearson (when I was growing up, I thought all Adventist preachers could preach). It is no accident that Glenville may very well have produced more preachers than any other Regional Conference Church.
But while all of the aforementioned were great preachers and major influencers on my life, none of them were “short” preachers. We got out of church around 1:30, 1:45, even 2:00. So, it was both a cultural shock and a little comical to hear my Caucasian classmates complain on the rare occasion when church got out at 12:15, “We got out of church late today!”
I am not sure how engaged I was in those services in those days. But I went-every week.
Then I went to Oakwood. We worshipped in the gym. But the late Elder Eric Ward ran that service as though we were in a cathedral. The birds would come in the gym-every Sabbath. But they never caused any, well, problems. Elder Ward was so organized, I think that it even had an effect on the behavior and habits of those birds.
But in those days, students went to church-at least, all the ones that I was around did. And my parents-without ever saying it-made it clear that everyone in their house was going to church.
So thoroughly, in fact, was church attendance ingrained in me, that until these last few months, I had only missed church three times in my entire life (except for illness); once, in Puerto Rico, when the nearest English-speaking church was an hour away and we just woke up late, another time in Mexico and a third time when we were visiting Yellowstone Park (we woke up late that day, too).
So, these last two months-I miss church.
Here’s what I miss:
- I Miss the Preaching: As a preacher, I miss preaching to people and I miss other preachers preaching to me. Some of the most memorable times in my life have involved hearing the Word of God and the opportunity and privilege God has given me to preach the Word of God. I miss the preached Word of God.
- I Miss the Music: When I was a young Pastor in Memphis, we had an exceptional church choir. Talk about getting set up for the sermon! Man, those were some great days.
Then, later on, I had positions that placed me where I could hear the Oakwood University Aeolians. There were times when I thought: “If the Aeolians sound like this, what will the angels sound like in heaven?”
Some of my musical memories center around the congregational singing of hymns. I remember the last General Conference session in San Antonio. It had been a difficult session-there were clear divisions on things such as the ordination of women.
But that last Sabbath, when those 70,000 delegates and visitors from around the world sang songs about the hope that we have in the soon coming of the Lord, I was reminded of something that it can sometimes be too easy to forget: As important as the things that divided us in San Antonio are, the things that unite us as Seventh-day Adventist are still more important than the things that divide us.
I miss the music.
Lastly-I Miss the People: For the past two months, I have been separated from my brothers and sisters of-as Paul put it in the Word “like precious faith”.
For nearly thirty years, I had the privilege of working in the South Central Conference office. And for approximately fifty Sabbaths, every year, for nearly thirty years, I visited the churches of that conference.
I got to know the people. I got to know their children-and later, their grandchildren. I went to their children’s graduations. I did their weddings, their grandchildren’s baby dedications. I did their funerals. A number of them became like my own family. I miss seeing them.
The Lord has placed me in a position now where I still frequently visit churches. Only this time, often I do not know anyone in the church I am visiting-sometimes, I do not even know the Pastor who invited me.
But somehow, there is usually a connection. I have learned over all these years that wherever I find God’s people, I find my people. Even when I have preached in places where a lot of the people did not look like me, talk like me and could not understand me-because they have the same hope as me, they are my people.
And I miss my people. I hope to see you soon.
By Elder Dana Edmond