I saw this photograph a few days ago as I was browsing Twitter and my heart leapt for joy. Here were people being Church, actively stepping out to offer prayer and a visible presence to those around them. What an lovely idea! I immediately tweeted out to some of my local churches about setting something up in the park a street away. I await their answer …
A number of our local Anglican churches are now opening up for a few hours a week, with social distancing guidelines and strict hygiene measures in place. As well as their continued online offering, this is stretching them even thinner. People desperately want these things to happen. But this pandemic is straining everyone. Why can’t we think outside the box a bit more, to make the most of the little we have leftover to give?
I just keep coming back to a simple maths question. If it takes a cleaner, at least two hosts and then a cleaner again, from each church, to open up for one hour, how much less is it going to cost in manpower for each of those churches to send one person to a park for an hour? How many more people are they going to reach? How much more inclusive could they be? How much more of a visible presence in the community could Christ become? Could we do a bit of both?
Last Sunday, I needed something other than my own Church’s offering. We do prerecorded services, which I am sometimes part of in the worship section. For many, this is good, and feedback is positive. For some, it feels like a performance, they can’t connect in the same way. Some need the sense of live, in the moment, meeting with others. Some like the fact they can watch it at whatever time of day works for them. I move between stances, but on Sunday I needed the live connection. So I found another local church with people I know, who live stream a service with a chat function, some prerecords but certainly live worship and hosting. For the first time in a long time I could really connect with that feeling of community worship and praise.
So I keep coming back to a our spiritual maths questions again. If it takes one person an hour to practise a set and then 20 minutes to play it live, or five people an hour to record audio and visual with two other people taking four hours to produce an end result, which is wiser with the end goal of bring the Kingdom to Earth? And the calling to tend to the needy? How many hours of ministering to each other are we losing in the name of looking good on our live feeds?
There is something pure and sensual about just being in a church building, in that space, with God, in focus and peace. Having said that, I have no inclination to rush into a church building. As beautiful as many of them are, and as treasured mine is to me following my wedding there, it’s not the building that matters. I’ve stayed connected with my church friends through social media and Life Group Zooms, I’ve supported my church’s online effort with appearances on their YouTube services. I’ve prayed, I’ve ministered to those I have care of, I’ve supported a few extra people I knew had more reason to struggle than most. This is what Church is to me. I have faith our pastoral system has worked to ensure nobody has fallen through the net. I worry that once we start opening our buildings up too, this will become harder.
But I also have faith that God has this. That if some churches switch their focus back to their buildings, others will continue to uphold their online offerings. That church online will become more than just what we did when we had to, and more of an actual congregating body of people who meet together for services, life groups, support each other, connect outside of the collective on social media, and support their central effort when the going gets tough. A true Online Church. Those who need the physical building around them will have it in time. Will those who need their pixels and wifi get the same?
Peace be with you.