I recently came across an article that I thought was good, helping me immensely. The article, written by Carmen Joy Imes, called- Church after COVID—Why Bother Going Back?
The Christian Life is not for the faint hearted- it’s about commitment even when life is tough
Article- “After 6 months of worship at home with the Church on Zoom or YouTube, rhythms that used to be automatic are no longer a given. In our county of rural Alberta, Canada, we currently have zero cases of COVID19. Province-wide, K-12 students are back in class, and churches are allowed to meet again. Still, many precautions are in place. Attending Church is more complicated now. Some churches require pre-registration, masks, and hand sanitiser. Most have chairs spaced apart, or pews blocked off to ensure social distancing. Some won’t let you sing. Many have cancelled programming for children. And frankly, with no handshakes and no visiting in the lobby—in one door and out another—why bother going?
During the stay-at-home orders, many churches stepped up to the challenge of live streaming services, investing in equipment and training to foster a sense of continuity.
Let me first say that if your state or county is prohibiting services, then stay home. Your government leaders are doing their best to keep you safe. However, this will not last forever. Eventually, the restrictions will lift. When that day comes . . . why shatter the peace of the weekend by going through all the COVID19 rigmarole, exchanging distant greetings, and singing muffled songs? Why not just tune in at home? This pandemic has imposed an even bigger question on all of us: What is the point of the Church anyway?
Can it be done online as well as in person? And if so, then why go back at all?
Depending on your church tradition, an obvious answer may present itself: communion. If you are Anglican, Episcopalian, Catholic, or Lutheran, you have gone without communion for 6 months or longer. Even for Baptists, crackers and juice at home are not quite the same. Likely, you feel the ache of its absence, and you are eager to return. Communion is one crucial dimension of gathering for Christian worship that YouTube cannot replicate. It points toward a broader issue: embodiment.
Almost 500 years ago, the Heidelberg Catechism described the Christian experience in a way that anticipates our modern dilemma. It begins with a question: “What is your only comfort in life and death? I am not my own, but belong body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question & Answer 1).
My body belongs to Jesus. By extension, I also belong to his means of grace in the world, the Church. Of course, there is much more to being the Church (and following Jesus) than attending a weekly service but gathered worship is one significant aspect of being part of the Church. When I choose not to attend, something is missing.
My absence from Church diminishes what Christ can accomplish in and through the Church. At the same time, my presence is a tangible means of participation in the kingdom. Ultimately, it’s not about “what I get out of it.” The Church cannot fully accomplish its purposes in the world when I withhold my presence. Physical participation matters.
The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism could scarcely have anticipated the options we have to worship from home. Still, they insist that we belong to Jesus body and soul. They acknowledge the importance of embodied worship. Something happens when we are physically present together that is simply not possible when we log in online.
According to James K. A. Smith in his excellent book, You Are What You Love (Brazos, 2016). Our physical participation has consequences that may be imperceptible now, but these add up to something significant. Our habitual acts shape our loves. Our loves shape who we become. Smith says that to cultivate virtue, we must immerse ourselves in practices that inscribe them in our hearts over time. He writes:
… counter formative Christian worship doesn’t just dispense information; instead, it is a Christ-centred imagination station where we regularly undergo a ritual cleansing of what we absorb elsewhere. Christian worship doesn’t just teach us how to think; it teaches us how to love. It does so by inviting us into the biblical story and implanting that story in our bones (You Are What You Love, 85).
Here are four reasons I am choosing to attend Church in person again, now that it is allowed where I live:
1. Weekly fellowship in a church body orients my loves.
Each week my heart is re-calibrated in small ways that keep me facing Jesus rather than drifting in another direction. This is true even if I don’t feel particularly inspired or challenged on a given week. The Church is not a vending machine designed to meet my immediate needs. Instead, it is a field that, when cultivated year after year, will produce spiritual nourishment. If I don’t walk out every Sunday with a full belly, that does not mean it is pointless to go. Little by little, week after week, I tend this field until it yields an abundant harvest in me.
2. Weekly fellowship in a church body reminds me that following Jesus means joining God’s family.
When I signed on as a Christian, it was not a transaction designed primarily to secure my eternal destiny. Becoming a Christian means becoming part of God’s family and changing how I live here and now. Spending week after week with these people, sharing this experience eventually adds to a network of caring relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight (remember, it’s a field, not a vending machine). Still, as we do life together, we lend support to each other on our faith journeys. Simply watching from home positions, me as a solitary consumer rather than an active participant. While digital worship has been a gift to keep us connected during this strange season, it is not sustainable to cultivate a faith community.
3. Weekly fellowship in a church body enables me to participate in God’s work of grace in others.
My effort to show up encourages my leaders, upholding their ministry. Any pastor who has tried preaching to a camera knows that it is not the same. My presence supports the work of my pastor and worship leader to study, plan, and prepare. It lends energy and solidarity to their message.
My presence also affirms the value of corporate worship for all those in attendance. My smile and my wave from six feet away and my voice lifted in praise (behind my pandemic mask) manifest the Spirit’s presence to others who have come. This is what it means to be the image of God. Our identity as God’s image is expressed physically—an embodied reminder of the presence and rule of God. We represent the unseen God to one another. I am not my own. I am a member of something bigger than myself—Christ’s body on earth. For those who have been isolated at home, my physical presence may be a lifeline. My Caring eye contact may lend strength for another week.
4. Weekly fellowship in a church body is a means of declaring allegiance to the kingdom of God.
On the outside, the Church may not seem like much. It may seem weak. But the Church is a visible witness to the unseen reality of God’s kingdom. Being present each week testifies to this. It acknowledges that God’s invisible kingdom is more substantial and lasting than the other concrete institutions in my community. It will outlast the postal service, local businesses, schools, and politicians and their offices. It will outlast the pandemic and the hurricanes and the wildfires and the ugly inequalities in our world. My participation ensures this. It testifies to that more powerful and lasting kingdom.”
Carmen concludes her article with her personal thoughts….
“So, for these and other reasons, I go. I hope that as soon as you are able, you will go, too. Our circumstances may still be less than ideal, but the long-term benefits of embodied worship far outweigh the hassles. Whether I feel excited about it or not (and usually I do!), the Church is my family, and I cannot be who I am meant to be without it (her emphasis).”
I hope you enjoyed reading Carmen’s article and hope it was helpful to you in this time of transition.