One of the disadvantages of leading virtual worship is that you do not get to participate in worship. Of course, I can always go back and watch later, but I never get the “live” experience of watching prayers. That all changed this week. My seminary held their annual Convocation yesterday. It was entirely virtual, with webinars, Zoom meetings, breakout rooms, and Zoom worship. Our worship at Hickory Neck Church is via Facebook Live, so this was my first time worshiping with a community via Zoom, and I was curious to see how it would feel.
My initial response was dissatisfaction. Although I could see there were about 50 people gathered, once slides were used on the shared screen, I could only see six people without constantly scrolling. Although the sermon was close to my normal experiences with preaching, watching faces that seemed spaced out was a bit odd (Do the faces look that spaced out when I preach??). And of course, when I joined in speaking the italicized words (those words “the people” are supposed to say), because we were all on mute, I felt like only the officiant and I were participating.
But that was just the initial reaction. As I said more and more of the unison readings, I felt less and less awkward. And even though I could only see a few faces, I loved knowing I was not alone in the worship experience. And as I became less paranoid about what my own video screen was showing, I was able to relax into my chair, and transport myself to an imaginary pew. The worship experience was not the same – but it was also familiar, human, holy, and lovely.
Looking back on that experience, I want to offer major kudos to all who are “making it work” with virtual church. I know it is not the same. I know it is hard staying positive when all you want is something more familiar. I am so grateful for all of you who are sticking with it, making the awkward become sacred. I hope that you are having moments of grace and blessing. And I also hope you are noticing all the names (and faces if you’re Zooming) you do not recognize: those folks who find it harder to harken the doors of the church than to hop on Facebook for worship – whether when you are live, or at 10:00 pm, as you watch the archived video while you ease off to sleep. This may not be church as we have always known it. But we are also fashioning something new, flexible, and creative, while rooting ourselves in the traditions we know and love that ground us. This week, you have my gratitude for all the ways you are staying open to the Holy Spirit. And if you have not found a place to experience the Spirit, I’ve got just the place for you!!