Monday, May 4, 2020
At my church, on the first Sunday of our state of emergency, services were cancelled at the last minute, so there was no service at all. The following Sunday, we had a service on Facebook Live. As the regulations for gathering in groups became smaller, the music leaders and the one doing the preaching began broadcasting in separate locations. Now, both the message and the singing are recorded separately prior to Sunday. One week, one of the pastors recorded his sermon outside in the woods.
My son is a music leader at his church, and his pastor is one of my classmates in seminary. Their service is an hour earlier than our own, so we are able to watch both if we want. Initially, they also broadcasted live from their facility with just four or five people there. Eventually, that was changed to pre-recorded material. Last week, as we had a Zoom call with our kids, my son said he had to leave the call and prepare his music for the following Sunday. Last week, we had some technical difficulties with our church's stream. "We can always watch it later," I said to my husband.
Even as I said those words it struck me that it was a rather sad convenience.
It doesn't matter if we can comment on the broadcast; or if we can see who is also participating. It simply is not the same. From a technical perspective, pre-recording things is easier. But the pre-recorded option removes much of the intention of worship. We can watch whenever we want. It isn't the same as purposely getting up on a Sunday morning and leaving the house for the purpose of worship.
One of the things I learned in my ecclesiology class this past school year is that participation is worship is confined to singing. Unless one attends a more formally liturgical church where there are responsive readings and corporate confessions, it's mostly a time of listening. We listen to the sermon; we listen to the announcements; we listen to the pastoral prayer. Singing is the only interactive thing left in worship, and in some churches where there are large amounts of musicians at the front and the music is so loud we can't hear our own voices, that aspect of participation is waning. Worshiping at home is entirely passive.
Worship is also losing its communal feel. One of the things I miss most is watching the children gather at the front of the church to have a prayer before children's church. The song leader crouches down and speaks to them. The gentleman who leads our singing has a lovely way with small children, and I smile every time I watch him interact with them. I miss having my eyes make contact with someone I haven't see for a while. We may smile and wave to one another. I may see someone whom I want to greet, and I make a concerted effort to cross the room to see him or her once the benediction is said and the service is over. Greeting someone in a comment on Facebook isn't the same.
We are saved by God to be a body, the Body of Christ. While we live in a terribly individualistic society, the reality remains that life in Christ is a life of community. And life in community while we are alone in our homes is a paradox I struggle with. That said, I know for certain that despite my feelings, the the Body of Christ is still the body. We may not be gathering, but we are still the body. In this imperfect situation, it is good to care for one another. We need to check in on people. We need to call them and make sure they're okay. If it means dropping off some baked goodies at their door in order to encourage them, that's a great thing. We need to be praying for one another. We are a body apart right now.
And I likely won't feel entirely satisfied until we're a body together in the flesh once again.