A New State-Run Church

I was able to go to church last Sunday. I do not get to do that very often. Not because of the Covid-19 terror which plagues our land or a lack of desire to attend, rather as a pastor I am usually presiding in the Divine Service, not participating as a worshipper. My “going to church” is marked as my vocation and there are only a handful of times a year where I just go to church and sit in the pew as a layperson.

I have found it to be a good practice to go to church in this way. It keeps me honest and offers me the opportunity for real rest in the gifts of our Lord. So, every time I get a weekend off, I try and get to a local congregation wherever I might be vacationing, to feel what it is like to be on the other side. To be reminded again about the view from the pew.

Last Sunday I took in the specter of the Church newly emerging from state mandated shutdowns and virus riddled fears. All participants were required to wear masks upon entering and told to sit in designated sections where we were safely distanced from other worshippers who longed to receive the Lord’s gifts. Everyone complied. There were no issues. Then the pastor said this, “As our county has allowed us to once again meet in person it has provided very detailed instructions on just how we are to conduct our worship today. We have taken steps to change our normal practice to meet the guidelines we’ve been given.” He went on to describe how the service would work. There would be no congregational singing or sharing of the peace. The procedure for communion, when the time came, in which we were served by the faithful wearing masks, gloves and even a face shield, handed the host with tongs to prevent contact and a sort of self-service station to take the wine in individual plastic cups.

There was something unsettling about all this. I suppose I ought to have applauded the resiliency of a congregation that went to great lengths to ensure everyone’s safety. But I could not shake the idea that a congregation which had closed its doors at the threat of the government and now opened them only by government permission, was somehow different. The language the pastor used made it clear that the state now had a say in the actual practice which goes on inside a place of worship.

This is not a minor thing or something we ought to simply overlook or count as a necessary evil of the day. Within a shockingly short period of time the state established itself firmly in the worship life of the people of God. They closed the doors of churches and then closed the mouths of those who would sing the praises the Church has been signing for thousands of years. Under the banner of love, they began to teach the Church how best to love one another. They went so far as to establish the manner and parameters in which one receives the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and they did not seem to think it was outside of their right to do so.

Welcome to the new State-Run Church. They will not pay the bills or make sure there is a preacher in the pulpit, in fact they would be just fine if you closed your doors for good, but if you open, you open on their terms and worship at their behest. I wonder… how much further the State will go during the next crisis?