In a recent phone conversation, a pastor shared with me longing for a return to in-person worship. It would be an understatement to say that this pastor is not alone in that longing. We miss being together in-person. We like what has been comfortable in the past.
As I pondered that pastor’s longing, I wondered if God shared that same longing. Did God want churches to go back to the way worship was before the pandemic’s forced isolation? I wondered how churches could use their virtual worship skills to bring more people to know Christ. How would those who are not ready to come back to in-person grow in their faith if a church’s energy was focused on in-person worship? If worship is only in-person, what becomes of those who were attracted to virtual worship but do not live in the local community?
2020 was a stressful year, a year of learning how to be the church in a new way. That new way has attracted many people to the church that may not have been attending church on a regular basis. I have heard story after story about how people from all over the USA, indeed the world, have been ‘attending’ worship in a Riverside Presbytery church.
I believe that returning to in-person worship is not an either/or decision, but a both/and. We have learned new skills and new ways of worship, of being church, of being a community this past year. What is each of us going to do with the experience and knowledge gained over the past year? Will it be thrown out like the proverbial baby with the bathwater or will the skills and experiences be used to forward God’s kingdom in new ways?
This past week I asked pastors to email me stories of how the pandemic had and has positively affected their church. Below are two. Do you have stories to share?
From Pastor Julie Hodges
“While meeting on Zoom for the last year has been a challenge, St. Andrew has experienced excellent participation each week. The core of our congregation is with us each week during Zoom Worship. We have gained new participants who were looking for a new church home as well. Our giving has been very consistent- we instituted online giving and folks are using it! One of the benefits we have reaped is in our Christian Education program. Because we can Zoom speakers in on Sunday after Worship, we have heard from folks remotely that otherwise we might not have in person (since Indio is at the far reaches of the Presbytery.) This has opened our eyes to utilizing this as a CE method in the future, even post-pandemic. We are a grateful congregation that the Holy Spirit has been at work here.“
And from Pastor Cheryl Raine
“As Roman’s 8:28 says, ”We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” God has used this extraordinarily difficult season to do new things among us for good! We have embraced new technologies that would have been rejected or at least caused significant disagreements under our pre-pandemic days. We have figured out ways to connect more intentionally with each other using whatever means is necessary – snail mail, calls, texts, emails, zoom, FaceTime, distanced visits, etc. Employees stepped up showing incredible flexibility and resilience, while other employees even stepped down to help the church cope with the financial fallout of the pandemic. There was a sense from our whole congregation that we are in this together and we will continue to be the church whether or not we can meet in-person. More people got engaged in a local hands-on ministry making sack lunches for the most vulnerable in our community. These are just a few of the “good things” God has accomplished in us!”