Church in the Time of a Pandemic
As I have written about previously on Conciliar Post, I attend a small church that meets in a home. On a regular basis I help with the preaching and music ministry at our Sunday morning services and weekday Bible studies. Even though we are a small church, we have a number of young families with children. On any given Sunday morning, 35-50 people typically attend, which is a large group for a house church. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we chose to adapt our meetings to the rapidly changing social circumstances.
In our state, when the first wave of closures began, we made the decision to initially split into smaller house church groups, around a dozen people per home. From the beginning, we tried to make wise decisions without being controlled by fear. To be respectful to our neighbors, we thought it best not to meet as a larger group.
The following week, the governor issued additional recommendations and closures that forced us to change our plan. We decided that even a group of a dozen people could be a concern for our neighbors and a health risk. So after one week of meeting in smaller groups, we decided to move all of our services onto Zoom.
In this time, churches have made a variety of decisions in response to the pandemic and the public health recommendations of their states. In our area, one prominent megachurch has continued to meet for large worship services, drawing increasing criticism from the community and local officials. Other churches live stream their services or air pre-recorded services on their website. For a house church, Zoom seemed most appropriate because it allows us to have the kind of interpersonal interactions that are so essential to smaller churches.
Benefits of Zoom Church
As many churches, businesses, schools, and other institutions have certainly learned in the past six weeks, Zoom can be a beneficial platform. There is an immediacy to Zoom, with faces on the screen in the spirit of The Brady Bunch, that forces a certain level of engagement. To an extent, this enhances a Bible study or faith discussion.
Furthermore, Zoom overcomes the physical limitation of a church service. Our small church has had people join us from across the nation and even overseas (invited guests not Zoom bombers of course). Members of our church know believers in other areas that do not necessarily have access to a church meeting because of quarantine regulations so they are able to join us virtually.
Not The Same Thing
In spite of the benefits of Zoom church, I find myself progressively losing interest in the format. Maybe the novelty has worn off. Or maybe I just have Zoom fatigue due to the increased use of Zoom in my workplace. Either way, Zoom cannot replace the reality of attending church with fellow believers.
As a church musician and worship leader, I deeply miss the experience of singing with other believers in the same room. When I play music for one of our services now, everyone mutes their mic and follows along with the lyrics via screen share. On my end, it is hard not to feel self-conscious. Is the audio quality good enough to sing along with? Is my guitar distorting the built-in mic in my computer? Is there lag? Am I singing on pitch? Being on pitch is a continual life struggle for me, but that problem becomes less of an issue when I am in a room full of other people who are singing along. A little off pitch just creates a beautiful chorus effect, as long as one can appreciate music with some imperfections.
Ultimately, though, I miss actually being with other believers. We often visit for a little while on Zoom after the worship service ends, but that is a poor substitution for laughing and telling stories over a shared meal. And, in spite of the fact that I am not particularly inclined toward lots of physical touch, it is impossible not to miss the tactile embodied-ness of church. Someone recently said to me, “When this all ends, I am going to hug everyone.” I thought to myself, jokingly, “I may even kiss everyone when this ends!”
Hope for the Future
I am sure many other believers share my sentiments. If nothing else, this pandemic reminds me of the importance of the experience of church. Content can be streamed, but church is more than the words of the sermon or the melody of the music. Furthermore, this time reminds me of what a privilege it is to gather with fellow Christians to worship God, hear from the scriptures, and celebrate the sacraments. I suppose believers in other places and other times who lived in more restrictive cultures knew this privilege well. I know now better than before what an amazing privilege it is to gather freely with others to worship, and I certainly long for the ability to gather again in the coming month (or is it months?).
Featured image from Flickr user snickclunk. Used under creative commons license.