Is it time for the re-emergence of the house church in mainline denominations?
Despite not being able to worship in person during the COVID pandemic, I’ve really enjoyed attending different churches virtually—from the grandeur of Easter morning, morning prayer, and even a weekly Covid-19 memorial service at the Washington Cathedral (click here to visit), to the familiar faces at Sunday worship at my mom’s congregation, St. Peter’s Del Mar (click here to visit), to the memories sparked by Sunday services at my sponsoring parish, St. James Paso Robles (click here to visit)--all with out leaving my office.
I have loved this and applaud the creativity of these big and small worshipping communities to find new and innovative ways to proclaim God’s never ceasing love in a time when we need it so desperately. As my congregation in New Zealand used to say, “Good on ‘ya.”
As I’ve thought about where we are, and where we are going, I wonder if we might need to push ourselves even further outside of the mold of what we know. While these virtual experiences work, there will always be something missing from not being able to gather in person as a community. And after COVID is over (yes, that will happen one day) I worry about the financial state of congregations and their ability to continue to afford “church” the way we’ve always done it--aging buildings and full time, seminary trained clergy in a society with declining interest in mainline Christian denominations are all concerns. My fear is that COVID has accelerated the unsustainable nature of our current model.
I wonder if it is time to think about the house church again, and how the first models we have of the “ecclesia” might inform how we do church. The description of the house church appears multiple times in the bible (Corinthians 16:19, Philemon 1:2, Romans 16 to name a few). The practice in these house churches is best described in Acts 2:42-47, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (NRSV).
What if we were to go to a model, maybe even just during COVID, where congregational hubs supplied materials and creative ideas for gathering that could occur in people’s homes with proper social distancing. These could be like the “learning pods” that are springing up for educating children. We could offer “worship pods” or “spiritual growth pods” that focus on authentic and relevant biblical teaching that is applicable to these very difficult times we are living through. These pods could be a way to safely be together, break bread safely, and support one another. And we could pray...
House churches could allow us to reclaim some of the best of the early church in a new, evolved way.