COLORADO SPRINGS — A celebration of faith and community at New Life Church on Sunday as worshipers were finally allowed back in to the state's largest house of worship for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March.
I had a chance to speak with senior pastor Brady Boyd about what it's been like to oversee the operation of the megachurch staff and the thousands of people who worship every week. I asked him, "First and foremost, this pandemic has been a test of faith, religious and otherwise,from a leadership standpoint, from an institutional standpoint, faith in god, faith in fellow man, you are a local faith leader, what has been your biggest takeaway as it relates to faith and us getting through this unbelievable time?"
To which Boyd responded, "At one point, we were hearing one or two million deaths in America and so when people first heard the reports they were overwhelmed with fear and my greatest concern as a pastor was people not being crippled by unnecessary fear but living with necessary concern, so i was constantly navigating my sermons and in my on line posts, helping people navigate both properly concerns taken proper measures to keep themselves safe."
And he says that it worked, he did see that fear level drop among most of those he interacted with, saying that being consistent, being there was key, that is what the church has done for millions for two thousand years of history. "So in some ways my steadiness was just being present I think helped, the sermons got simpler, they go shorter and they were more encouraging than even normal."
One of the most contentious topics associated with the pandemic here in Colorado is the stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders and the designation between "essential" and "nonessential" businesses. There has been tremendous backlash against the governor and the state health department to not include places of worship as "essential," despite the importance it brings to so many people when it comes to their mental, physical and spiritual well being.
I asked Boyd if he thought there is a double standard when it comes to places of worship and the decision to deem them nonessential, to which he replied, "I don't think in Colorado that we have felt any discrimination, I have not felt that, I cant speak, for other pastors." He added, "So I think it was smart and wise for us to take a few weeks off for us to try to understand the virus how it's transmitted and then come back together in a safe way that's gonna protect our people."
He believes our elected leaders locally and at the state level have a very difficult job in trying to manage these life and death decisions and says he respects the enormous weight they have felt in making these decisions, and says that it's the right decision.
Keep in mind that some churches have decided to hold services despite the nonessential order to remain closed. In fact, at the time of the interview, El Paso County commissioners were considering a resolution that would allow New Life and other denominations to once again open their doors, based on recommendations from health experts. This resolution was approved on May 28 and awaits approval from the state health department.
Boyd said that through this process he has consulted with the experts, locally and the CDC to make sure that all the data is being considered before any kind of life or death decision is made on behalf of his church and his members, he says science and religion are not at odds, and he sees science as a companion to faith.
And once the doors to his church reopen, it's going to be a whole new world for the faithful at New Life. On a typical Sunday, pre-pandemic, they would hold two services on Sundays, with five thousand people attending each service. Now, that number is 10% of that, or just 500 people. The chairs in the church are separated based on social distancing guidelines and there is hand sanitizer, wipes, masks to keep people safe as they enjoy getting back together again in worship.
But it's not without controversy either, he says there are parishioners who are adamant about not wearing a mask. "Absolutely. There are a group of people that will not wear a mask and they're defiant about that and they have their own personal convictions about that not wearing a mask and there will [be] the majority of people who will show up with the mask on."
Boyd also believes that there will be people who will not return to the church until some kind of vaccine is approved and distributed worldwide. They remain fearful, but he totally understands. The best part of that scenario, he says, is that they can still be reached. New Life has an advantage over many smaller churches, with some of the best technology available, the ability to stream services online, to post on Facebook and Youtube, which they have been doing for weeks now, but they were ahead of the curve long before the pandemic struck.
"I think this is a moment for every church now to embrace the new normal and the new normal will be smaller gatherings, more people are going to watch on line than in person for these next few months that are ahead of us and every church now has to make a decision about how much they're going to invest in that kind of technology," Boyd said.
And they face many challenges, of utmost concern, he says. How does the faithful reorganize community, reshape it, what will it look like? It's something they have been thinking about, talking about and planning for. In the meantime, he has a job to do today: to lead, to inspire. So I asked him to share a line from scripture, a verse perhaps, something that inspires him and others. He told me "The Aaronic Blessing," the blessing of Aaron, which says, "The Lord will bless you, the Lord will keep you, the Lord makes his face shine upon you, the Lord grant you peace."
"And I have found myself singing that and quoting that and speaking that over people, there's hope ahead of us, not everything ahead of us is dark, the world's gonna look different when we come out of this, but it's not without hope," he said.
Boyd says that through this difficult time and beyond, his ministry will continue to provide for the community. He says we are a giving community and have been providing food and other essential needs to those in Colorado Springs who find themselves in dire straits. He says there is a food shortage crisis here, and they have worked hard to try and help alleviate it, at least for the short term, gathering and distributing tons of food.
At the end of the day and as the doors to his ministry open again to his community of faith, he insists it is the cleanest, healthiest place in the city. They will continue to put forth what has been a monumental effort so far, to meet the needs of the public and allow those who need comfort, support, a place to gather and grow and pray and mourn so much loss.
Boyd says that the fabric of a church has always been the ability to gather together and nothing, not even an unprecedented, modern day pandemic, can change that.