Last weekend, I attended a men’s retreat at Eagle Eyrie, a Christian conference center located between Boonsboro and Big Island, in Bedford County. The men of the church that I attend, Rivermont Evangelical Presbyterian Church, gathered for inspiring messages and fellowship.
The guest speaker was a former pastor of the church, the Rev. Dr. John Mabry. He had served at Rivermont as senior pastor from 1996 until 2010. He currently serves as senior pastor of the church in which he grew up, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe, LA.
The theme was “Face to Face,” and the three sessions on Friday evening and Saturday morning offered insights into prayer and seeking the face of God. Psalm 27:8 provided the Scriptural theme: “You have said, ‘Seek My face.’ My heart says to You, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ ”
A secondary emphasis of that theme was interacting face to face with our brothers in Christ. It proved a fitting notion after two years of limitations, restrictions, closures, and masks. We were able to gather together for worship, Bible teaching, fellowship, and communion in a way which many people took for granted up until March, 2020.
The event proved to be a great opportunity to talk more with people whom I usually only see in passing at church, as well as the chance get to know people I didn’t know before. In a church smaller than a mega-church but still with a few hundred members and two services, it is difficult to know everyone, and times for interaction and fellowship at church are often limited.
Rivermont’s current senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. David Weber, pointed out in opening remarks, “The promise of technology, social media, and internet to bring us closer together has proven to be in many ways an empty promise.”
The type of brotherly fellowship, “koinonia,” to use the commonly-referenced Greek term, which the Bible exhorts us to engage in passages such as Hebrews 10:24-25 (“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”) really cannot be sustained long-term (or even realized in the short term) via Zoom worship services. Nor can they be fully engaged solely through an hour or two of church services on Sunday mornings. Both the stop-gap measures and the previous norms are often lacking.
The devastating mental and emotional effects of the lockdowns and restrictions of the last two years have been widely described. Suffice it to say; as churches return to normal functions, it will be important for Christians to interact at a deeper level than, “Hi! Good to see you this week!” While many people may need professional counseling or other mental health treatment, many others need to interact with brothers and sisters in Christ at a more meaningful level after the isolation of the covid-era restrictions. That is one way that churches and the Christians in them can become active in being the body of Christ.
I would encourage you to look for opportunities to get to know better, build up, encourage, and strengthen your fellow believers. Do more than show up and say hello; engage at a deeper level than attending a church potluck supper. And if you slid away from the practice of attending and being involved in a church – either during covid or before – now is a great time to become actively involved again.
The Christian life, we learn in the Bible, was meant to be lived in community. Let us get back to that life of community, that love for neighbor to which Christ calls us.
Jeffrey Westbrook is a former missionary and pastor. He served, among other places, at Crossroads International Fellowship in Busan, South Korea.