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As Holy Week Begins, Churches Seek Safe Means For Togetherness


Of course, tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week for Christians. But many church pews are empty. Bread and wine are often BYOB. And social distancing has forced clergy to gather their flocks together in other ways. Darron LaMonte Edwards is lead pastor at United Believers Community Church in Kansas City, Mo. Pastor Edwards, thanks so much for being with us.

DARRON LAMONTE EDWARDS: I am so excited to join you today just to talk about things that are relevant.

SIMON: Well - and we're excited to have you. I gather you lead a Baptist congregation with around 600 people - can't obviously get together inside. What are you going to do?

EDWARDS: Well, one of the things that we're doing, especially with our Palm Sunday, is that we're having a drive-in worship, where our members will drive in on our church campus. We have - already have a space for social distancing. We have FM transmitters. So they'll be able to hear the word of God through their FM radio in their car stereo. And the reasoning behind it is that it is my prayer, in fact, maybe a fear - may be too strong of a word, but that's my word - that social distancing or shelter in place will lead to social isolation that could lead to mental devastation.

When God created us, he created us for connectedness and fellowship and (unintelligible). And this is the way. I believe just to see your church family - you can't touch them, can't hug them - but to see them I think is going to do something for the psyche.

SIMON: What about certain rituals like Communion?

EDWARDS: Yeah. Actually, we're doing that on Thursday. During Holy Week noon on Thursday, I'm doing a Facebook Live where everybody will take their own cracker and their own beverage. And I'll speak the Scripture. And I'll give a little short, five-minute talk. And we'll signify Communion. I just think it's a way that we've got to be creative and put down manmade rituals and traditions and figure out, how do we connect with God's people?

SIMON: I don't mean this to be in any way irreverent. But, like, if I were there, a Frito and a swig of Dr. Pepper would be fine?

EDWARDS: Absolutely. Listen. I may do Nacho Cheese Doritos and a grape soda. So you know...


SIMON: Oh, pastor, please - not the grape soda and the Cheeto.

EDWARDS: Welch's at that, if I could say. Well, yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: Your faith, pastor.

EDWARDS: Yeah. Right. Right (laughter).

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, I'm sure, there are some church leaders across the country who, at least at the moment, are defying local orders.


SIMON: And they say it's important to come together in prayer. They say it's genuinely more helpful than keeping a safe distance. I wonder if you would have any words in which they might reflect this weekend.

EDWARDS: Well, behind the scenes of any theological premise they put out - behind it all, there's fear. Will my church be able to survive? There's fear into receiving what some call the tithe and the offering to bring in revenues for the church. But here's where I've landed. The Bible says love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. We get that. But then it says, love your neighbor as yourself. And then it says, on these two principles hangs all the law. Everything else, you fighting and grappling about. And I think a good neighbor in this season will abstain from gathered worship, respect the restrictions of CDC and be a good neighbor as much as you want to be known as a good church. And at United Believers Community Church, we've decided to be a good neighbor.

SIMON: I have to ask you, finally - in this season - and, by that, I mean in the season of Holy Week but also in the season of what we're living through now, I wonder if there are any passages from Scripture that you've looked to in recent weeks.

EDWARDS: I did a piece on, God, why did you put me here? - dealing with Ezekiel in the dry bone experience. You know, God just said, I'm going to put you there, and do something about it - and then asked him the crazy question, can these bones live? And Ezekiel says, God, only you know.

SIMON: Yeah.

EDWARDS: I mean, I think we're in that space now. Lord, you - only you know. And so on Sunday, Palm Sunday, thematically, I'm actually looking at Second Chronicles Chapter 20, where Jehoshaphat is surprised by this army that comes out of the southeast. And they're rising up against him. And he says, Lord God, we're powerless against this. But then God gives us the grand answer in verse 17. He said, this battle is not yours. It's mine. And so that's kind of where I'm going this weekend. So if anybody's listening, they got the sermon. So there it is (laughter).

SIMON: Pastor Darron LaMonte Edwards of United Believers Community Church in Kansas City, thanks so much for being with us. And a good Holy Week to you, sir.

EDWARDS: Take care. Stay safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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