A strange thing has happened in our neighborhood.

Two months ago we barely knew most of our neighbors. We would recognize familiar vehicles leaving for work, shuttling kids to school. But when they returned, they either disappeared into their garages or quickly ran inside, not to re-emerge.

Their lives were centered elsewhere, with their co-workers, their teachers and friends.

But then the COVID-19 crisis hit. Schools and businesses were closed.

We were told to shelter in place, which meant “stay home.” We became desperate for a friendly face and a familiar voice. We introduced ourselves to one another on our neighborhood walks, keeping a respectful 6-foot distance. And our neighborhood began to change.

Today, young mothers go for walks together, pushing their strollers. Parents and kids play baseball in the front yard. A young couple across the street eats their dinner on the front porch, waving to passers-by and chatting with those who stop to talk. Neighbors offer to pick up groceries for neighbors. And bikes.

Bicycles are everywhere: children, teenagers, adults of all ages, small bikes, big bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, expensive bikes and bikes, like mine, that are over 20 years old. Whole families: children, parents and grandparents ride bikes together.

Churches are changing. Instead of gathering in buildings to listen to a worship team and hear a preacher, families gather in their living rooms to stream their local church service and meet in small groups during the week through Zoom. Instead of shuffling their kids off to a Sunday school teacher, parents are opening the Bible and telling Bible stories to their children.

Church is no longer about a “performance” on Sunday morning. It is increasingly about ministering in neighborhoods, helping those who are hurting; caring for those who are sick and dying; comforting those who grieve, finding ways to create community.

We are all anxious to get back to work and return to school, to see friends and co-workers, to shop without fear.

We look forward to eating out at our favorite restaurants with smiling wait staff.

We long for the day when we will again hear the laughter of children on the playgrounds and in the park, to stand in the bleachers and cheer our home team.

We can’t wait to return to our churches without masks or distance restrictions, to greet one another with hugs and handshakes.

But in the meantime, God may be teaching us something. Under the COVID-19 restrictions, we are learning to relate more closely to our neighbors and our families, to be “church” in community.

The admonitions of Scripture give guidance: “Each one helps his neighbor and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ … Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:6, 10).

(Bill Tinsley has served as pastor, church planter and missions executive. In 2009 he launched the Tinsley Center, LLC to promote authentic faith that changes lives. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife, Jackie. Email Bill at bill@tinsleycenter.com.)

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