Last Sunday, about 100 people came back to worship in the sanctuary after more than a year away. As expected, things went off without a hitch for the most part. The preacher did somehow fail to get his mic turned on during the service at one point. The streaming of the video had a hiccup quickly resolved. Overall, though, it turns out that we, who had been worshipping virtually for a year, did indeed remember how to do it live, together. And it was glorious.
As expected, there were good conversations and questions like, “What is our next step?” If metrics continue to improve, we will go to gathering up to 100 people for a service in the next few weeks. We will start communion on the 20th of June. Saturday evening will return. There are still open questions, but a plan is in place.
Others wondered if everyone would return. Many will – and are! In fact, we’ve been welcoming new people all throughout the year. Some may have found virtual worship a means of worshipping that serves their needs and will continue that pattern. We’ll be streaming and posting the video of the service each week now. Others may have found that new habits formed over the last year that don’t include worship are hard to break. As expected, everyone seems to understand that a “new normal” will work itself out in the months ahead as we discern how the pandemic has changed everything permanently.
What was not as I expected was the level of joy in the air. I saw reunions take place, hearty greetings exchanged. I think everyone wore a smile. It had the feel of a homecoming. As I started with the familiar words, “Welcome to worship,” spontaneous applause broke out – at both services. The people who were gathered seemed to just pick-up where we all left off a year ago. Folks were aware that the kids were taller, the hair might be grayer, that there was catching up to do. Yet, even more, there was a manifestation of the beloved community God has made in this place with these people.
Also, not as I expected, nearly every person gathered asked me how my wife Cyndi was doing as she recovers from and looks ahead to her fight with cancer. It seemed that through this pandemic-imposed exile, this time apart, the bonds of compassion and love had never been altered. These people had been thinking about and praying for her – and so many others – even though separated. The church was never virtual at all because the love, born of God, united us. As I looked at all those smiling faces, some marked by fresh donut crumbs, I think I saw that others were experiencing this too.
Maybe it turns out that all along, through every stress-filled, anxiety-riddled day of separation, God was telling us, “I got this.” It turns out that God did and does have us bound together in ways that not even a pandemic can break.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor