Faith communities offer chance to renew connections

Series: Beyond COVID | Story 6

One of the joys of my work as pastor at Hinsdale Covenant Church is making our church building available for a community men's group called Men's Fraternity (runs October-February each year). The mission of this group is to equip men in our community to be better fathers, husbands, employees and employers. We meet at the crack of dawn and usually have 50 to 70 men from the community sitting around tables together, learning and growing.

One November morning our speaker was Julie Burns, head nutritionist for the Chicago Blackhawks. She had a great presentation about diet, exercise and how we care for our bodies, but she said something that still lingers with me today.

Before she talked about any other health factors she shared this: "You are already acting on the most important health factor there is: community. Community trumps everything. Science has shown the most important thing you can do for yourself is have real community. You can make a lot of other healthy choices but you can't be healthy without community."

I wanted to stand up and cheer. As a pastor it is my job to offer biblical instruction, care and opportunities for faith formation and growth, but I believe that the church is uniquely positioned to offer the real, authentic community we all need.

Many of us have experienced more rapid change that we realize in the last two years. Our digital footprints have expanded feverishly. Many of us have the option to work partially or fully from home. Many now prefer Doordash to a night out at a restaurant. Many students have acclimated to various forms of online learning. Our lives have become more convenient and the ease of digital life has become normative.

Churches are no different. Our church, like many, made constant adjustments to reach our people. We continue to offer livestreamed services and online options and see these measures as permanent fixtures.

However, my suspicion is that churches have reached a certain threshold, a line of demarcation. I know mine has. We desire to be a presence in digital spaces to a certain point.

Remember, though, that community is our most seminal health factor, which means that if churches push too much further into digital spaces and away from real time, shared-space community, we will suffer from ill-health. While every other area of our lives becomes more digitally hyperconnected, churches and other places of worship will continue to lead the way in human connection, shoulder to shoulder in the pews, seated around tables, in each others homes and lives. We will continue to fight for not just community, but community centered around a good and loving God, something that gives our lives deep purpose. Perhaps we risk the loss of relevancy by honoring a digital threshold, but places of worship will wither and fade if we surrender meeting together in physical spaces. It is what we are best at. Community is why we exist.

So, in a world that is increasingly convenient, let me invite you into something decidedly less convenient. Find a local place of worship among one of the great options in our community. Figure out when they meet for worship. Show up on time. Sit with someone you haven't met. Stay and have coffee and introduce yourself to someone new. Find a place to use your gifts in service along side others. Be drawn into something bigger, more transcendent, more encouraging, offering more purpose. Do one of the very best things you could do for your health: engage or reengage with a faith community.

- Lars Stromberg of Hinsdale is the lead pastor at Hinsdale Covenant Church and a member of the paper's COVID Recovery Task Force.