But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
- 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the closure or dramatic reconfiguration of a lot of organizations, traditions, and events that once seemed as reliable as the morning sunrise. Holiday extravaganzas were called off. Conventions and annual meetings moved online. Sporting events were postponed or cancelled outright.
The closure that saddened my family the most was announced on July 7, when the State Fair of Texas confirmed that, for the first time since World War II, Fair Park’s gates would not be welcoming thousands of people this fall for food, shows, photos, and fun. Especially for my son, who dressed up as Big Tex for Halloween last year, it was crushing to hear that “the germs” meant there would be no fair this year.
But in the weeks and months after that announcement, something remarkable happened. First, word started getting around that Fletcher’s, in the wake of the fair’s closure, would be hosting a series of pop-up events around the metroplex to make sure that people got their corny dog fix. Then mom-and-pop restaurants here in Garland decided to get in on the fun too, adding to their menus traditional (and not-so-traditional) “fair fare,” from funnel cakes to fried Oreos. Finally, the State Fair itself announced that they would be hosting a series of drive-through events where visitors could get their photo with a masked Big Tex, chow down on a few favorite snacks, and play a game on the midway. While the State Fair as we know and love it remains closed for the year, it was inspiring to see so many people get creative and make adjustments to ensure that, even if the fair is cancelled, fun is not.
Just as institutions like the State Fair have adapted in the last six months, so too has the church. Despite the discomfort, believers worship in masks on Sunday mornings and block off pews. Those who are less than tech-savvy have learned to use Facebook Live so they can participate in Bible study and worship from home. With so many fellowship opportunities off the table for now, church members have reached out to one another by phone and e-mail to check in and offer encouragement. Church has looked different, but it has not been cancelled.
In such tumultuous times, it’s been helpful to remember that this is far from the first time the church has had to navigate a difficult season. In the earliest days of the church, the apostles faced everything from persecution to sickness to internal conflicts. There were surely moments when they wondered if Jesus’s final promise to them—to be with them always, even to the end of the age—was coming up empty.
But in the wake of their difficulties, they grounded themselves in the knowledge that God was refining them in crisis and that their ability to persevere in struggles was serving as a witness to God’s grace and glory. Hard times made them bend but never break, and every obstacle offered an opportunity to show people how the Spirit breathes life into what is lifeless and hope into what seems hopeless.
Six months into this pandemic, with the end not yet in sight, the church continues to endure, just as Christ promised we would in dark days. May we continue to be obedient to the mission God has given us, making adjustments where we must and using the gifts He has given us. For while many things have been cancelled, ministry most certainly continues.