A couple of years ago, we were considering broadcasting our entire service. This led to various discussions and debates about the role of the church in the believer’s life. Our conclusion was that it was a short jump from offering our service to those who were stuck on the road or at home, to offering the service to our church community to view at their convenience. For this reason, we opted to only record the sermon and post it, but to not stream the entire service – except for special events such as Christmas Eve or our annual meeting.
Then came March 15, 2020.
Over the past 4 months, we have invested a great deal of time, energy, money, and expertise as a church family to creating an intentionally good vs. great online experience for those who are unable to attend HarvestDowntown@411. I am so grateful to those who have made sure that we were able to continue to worship together during the difficult season of executive orders and health code changes. I would list those individuals, but I am afraid of forgetting someone!
On May 31st, we began to meet in proximity again @411 N. Weber but continued to offer VirtualHarvest.
The last nine Sunday gatherings @411 have taught us a great deal about ourselves and our church community. Some have chosen not to return for health reasons. Others have chosen not to return out of principle. Some have reluctantly chosen to serve our children, while at the same time, others have joyfully jumped back into serving with HarvestKids. We have members all over the spectrum of what the church’s role should be in this season of re-entry into proximity.
Your church leaders have concluded that our role at HarvestDowntown is to provide consistency and connection during this season. We are compelled to invite each of you out of isolation and back into community. At the same time, we recognize that connection is going to look different for each family based on each family’s need. We also recognize that VirtualHarvest is a necessity for those unable to re-enter back into proximity @411. We also know that Harvest on-demand cannot replace an actual gathering. We further know that by streaming our service, we are potentially encouraging isolation and individualism.
On-demand church is not church. The church is the gathering of the believers for the purpose of building one another up into the household of faith – founded and held together by Jesus Himself. But, what if we gathered as smaller communities around VirtualHarvest to engage in worship together. Could that fulfil the purpose of the church? We believe this is true.
If you are someone who can only be around people if they are also wearing masks and are being equally careful about following the principles of social distancing, then why not gather with those people in a larger home to engage with VirtualHarvest? Or, if you are actively shopping, going to restaurants, meeting at coffee shops, and having friends and family over for dinner; then why are you not joining with those gathered @411 for worship? Finally, if you cannot wear a mask due to health conditions or trauma, and you feel judged when you attend @411, then why not open your home for a VirtualHarvest gathering with others who are in a similar situation.
Public Statement on Masks: HarvestDowntown will not condone the judgement of others concerning the use or disuse of masks. If someone is not wearing a mask to enter, move around, or leave 411; then we should assume that they have a medical condition and demonstrate to them the grace necessary. We will not assume that if someone is wearing a mask, that they are afraid of the virus; but we will assume that they are wearing their mask out of love for their neighbor.
Starting this Sunday, we will be adjusting HarvestDowntown’s liturgy and the streaming time, to make it more usable by those gathered to participate virtually. We are hoping that those who engage with VirtualHarvest in isolation will do so only out of necessity and not out of convenience. We also hope that there will be those who would be willing to host VirtualHarvest gatherings to provide for those who are unable to gather at 411 N. Weber. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be willing to be a host for a VirtualHarvest gathering. We will be making those gatherings public and clearly listing capacities and whether masks will be required or not. Please note that the streaming of VirtualHarvest will begin at 10:40 in August. We have concluded that this is the time best suited for hosting a VirtualHarvest Gathering.