Guest blog post
By Rev. Dr. Chris Keating
Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church


Around midnight the other evening, I stood on a frozen driveway in an isolated section of St.  Louis County. Looking up the steep hillside, I wondered how I was supposed to get to the front door of the house. Inside, flashing moved around and strobe lights flashed as police gathered evidence.

A second later, a couple walked up beside me. They nodded when I asked if they were family, and silently indicated they knew what was happening. One of them had been here earlier and had found their loved one deceased.

Not long after they called 911, I received a text message sent to St. Louis County Police Department command staff and chaplains. It’s not confirmed, but it is likely the person died from an opioid overdose—one of more than 1,400 such deaths in St. Louis County each year.

In January, I was appointed to serve as one of thirty chaplains within the County Police Department. Chaplains in this and other municipalities are volunteers assigned to provide support to officers, family members, and victims.

It’s a new opportunity for me, and another way Woodlawn Chapel seeks to be present in our community. Our members are engaged in discovering the intersections between dismantling racism and congregational vitality, addressing poverty and hunger, exploring ways of caring for creation, and growing in worship—both online and in person.

This is what ministry looks like in 2022. Like many churches, we are not as youthful as we once were, and our youth are much more diverse in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation. Our Session meets by Zoom and has found this to be effective and convenient. We’ve made some mistakes, some of which can be found on our church’s YouTube page. The truth is we are trying as best we can to live faithfully in strange times. By and large, we’re making our way. What else can we do?

I winced a bit the other day as I read a column in the New York Times arguing that the church —   the “big C” church – should discontinue holding online worship. The author, a priest in the conservative North American Anglican Church, thinks the most devastating impacts of Covid are behind us, and that it is time for the church to be, once more, “an embodied community.”

She’s wrong on several levels, including her disregard for persons with disabling conditions for whom online church has been a blessing. But she is also wrong that being online keeps us from experiencing the joys of embodied community. Theologically, our understanding of the church does not require us to be all together in the same place at the same time.  The early church experienced this, and their WIFI connections were notably unreliable.

I am not expecting that the two people I met on the driveway the other evening will find our way into our worship, or the worship of any church for that matter. But I do know that in that moment, Christ was present, and so was the church. By the Spirit’s gracious leading, we are the church—together.

Rev. Dr. Chris Keating
Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church

3 Comments

  • Posted February 15, 2022 4:53 pm
    by
    Diane McCullough

    Amen, Chris! Thank you for your ministry.

  • Posted February 15, 2022 8:24 pm
    by
    Ramona Williams

    Chris, thank you for conscience and intentional actions to make this world a better place.

  • Posted February 16, 2022 9:54 am
    by
    Vicky Michaels

    People who leave, or who have never known what it is like to be part of a faith community, will still experience the traumas of life. Thank you for being Christ to them in that moment. We never know the full extent of our impact.

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