Since the pandemic hit, many churches, including ours, haven’t been fully opened. First, they were closed entirely, and services were only virtual, with a minister praying and preaching to an empty space.
Now, they are sort of, kind of open. Our church hosts two Sunday services, live-streaming one, but everyone wears masks, including the priest when administering communion, and the “music” service consists of a lone cantor singing hymns solo while the congregation is admonished in the printed program not to join in.
I’ve written before about how I missed church during the times it was completely shut down, a surprise to me because I’d contemplated for quite some time how church should be much more than a building. I resisted the notion that organized religion, with its churches and cathedrals, was the true church, and then I discovered, when I couldn’t access those structures, how meaningful they were to me.
Now, however, as our bishops continue to urge us to socially distance and won’t let us completely open the doors to our buildings for all the gatherings churches host, I’m wondering and wandering again, going back to my original thoughts about what church should be. Thanks, bishops, for leading me back to this place of discernment. Or maybe I should say, “be careful what you wish for.”
Wishing for congregations to be ultra-safe means we’re now scattered, connecting with each other through Zoom meetings, newsletters, phone calls, and those live-streaming services. That, in turn, means many people — not just me — might be wondering about the real meaning of church.
I don’t think it should be merely social gatherings for those attending. Yes, I miss the social coffee hours, parish pot lucks and choir dinners and all the rest. But it isn’t just that.
It isn’t just taking canned goods every week to the food drive either, as important as those communal acts of mercy are.
Now I’m back to thinking church is more about all the things we’ve been called to do during this pandemic, the things I mentioned above — the phone calls, the notes, the newsletters, the Zoom meetings, the small but meaningful contacts with each other that lift us up as individuals, make us feel loved.
Because love is what the church is really supposed to be about. Loving our neighbor. Loving God.
As we show our love for one another, I believe it creates ripples in the wider community. So, that person you call to offer an encouraging word to might do the same or help a neighbor and that person, too, might be inspired to pass it on, all unconscious acts of charity started by one little pebble of love tossed into the wider pond.
You don’t need a building for that.