Dear Creator Family,
I was discouraged when this past Sunday’s 10:30 online service didn’t record. Each week, our 8:00 and 10:30 am services have been “taped” and posted on our private YouTube channel for those without the technological abilities to participate by Zoom or, in the case of Easter services, to watch later in the week. I am genuinely blessed to have Mary’s genius and abilities maintaining our online connections during quarantine. For the record, it was my error. I was using a laptop instead of cell phone for the first time and must have pushed the wrong button. The Zoom platform has presented a steep learning curve to be sure, so I try to take all the setbacks and glitches in stride. That’s life. But I was disappointed to learn that our gathering was “lost.”
Or was it? It’s kept me mulling over the matter and our “new normal” of personal interaction by social media platform. I appreciated Elizabeth Lafoon’s comment that, while other parishes are taping their services in advance to be “viewed” on Sunday, our ‘live,’ interactive broadcast simply feels right.
It’s true, taped services fit into our schedules better. One can opt to go to church any time of day that suits. Our family watched the Easter service at the Washington National Cathedral on a laptop while Jenny fixed a holiday dinner and the kids sorted through their candy. During our quarantine, I’ve watched other snippets of services and preaching online to hear meaningful words, and I’m glad I can do that. I confess to an ulterior motive as well--mining for tips and tricks to improve our online experience at Creator (Oh, so that’s how they…)! I do enjoy these pre-recorded services, in the same way I would enjoy watching the Macy’s Day Parade, a regular custom of setting time apart to watch an event. I enjoy seeing the beautiful sanctuaries and hearing what music they have managed to incorporate. The more beautiful the performance, the more work I now know went into that production.
But in the blessing resides the problem—it seems more like a performance. And somehow, it falls short of worship for me.
There is something so immediate and natural about an online service that preserves the “in church” nature of our gathering together. For one, there is focus. Though we are not physically present with one another, we are all doing the same thing at the same time. I believe in the mystical power that comes from that focus, because I know that the Holy Spirit is present connecting us all at the same time. The same with our call to prayer at 8:15 each morning. If you are doing that, you are participating in something far beyond the walls of your home or the walls of our church—it’s corporate. “Corporate worship” is our fancy way of affirming Jesus’ call to gather when he said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” The corporate reality of our gathering includes Christ! The sum is greater than its parts. In fact, in that sum lies the sacrament.
Second there is the obvious and tangible sign of the many and the disparate becoming one. Call it communion, for lack of a better term. Radical individuals coming together in the Name of Christ, even if we are just tiles in “gallery view” on a screen. Some are on a laptop, some on cell phone, some with video, some without. Some have no microphone, or no video, others trying out tech upgrades, all of us striving to be present. In the moment. I have to say that’s part of what it means to be at worship. We come to church on any Sunday from as many different places as there are people in the pews. Varying degrees of focus, enthusiasm, attention and will, all striving to be present in the moment.
Some use church as a reason to get dressed and ready for the day. At Easter it was fun to see fancy hats and “Sunday Best,” which, to me felt like a defense against the new shelter-in place orders and our dawning realization of what quarantine would mean. Have we not discovered since then, that you cannot lock-down the Holy Spirit? Somehow church is special, people at their best, and I like that this theology translates to Zoom as well. Others prefer PJ’s and a mug of coffee to come to the most special part of their week in their most natural form of being. The sacred is never meant to be stuffy or “presentable.” It is something much more essential than that. After all, Moses before the burning bush was asked to take off his shoes, not put on nicer ones. I’ve heard so many quarantine jokes of working in pajamas, yoga pants, or no pants at all, that I am happy to see online church does not bow to pretense. God takes us where we are, how we are and loves us for who we are. After all, he made us.
Mainly I like the online service for what it communicates about our priorities. Going to church is important. Always has been, always will be. Gathering as a people, His people, is important, and so the “live” aspect of our worship matters. Fellowship is real, and vital. It is the eternal Body of Christ, right here on earth. It is the fringe of His kingdom, breaking in. It is not entirely a human institution, and I believe as make-shift as they are, our Zoom meetings capture that. This is what stops the non-Christian or mystifies the believers in other faith traditions: Christ came at a particular time to a particular place. There is an immediacy to the Incarnation that can’t be captured on film. You need to BE there.
When Jesus went to the cross, they dropped the recording feed to that one, too. The answer to the haunting rhetorical question often sung by our choir on Maundy Thursday, Were you there when they crucified our Lord?, is “no.” Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? No. But we can be there when he raised up from the dead. Because that happens, live, every time his people come together in his Name. Online worship preserves the best of the Incarnation and feeds us spiritually and sacramentally during this time. I encourage us all to BE there.
In closing, let me reiterate what I’ve been saying several weeks. I was mostly disappointed about our botched recording for those folks who can’t be with us on Sundays but do have the capabilities for YouTube. Please reach out to parishioners not “on” on Sunday mornings. I can think of a half dozen folks unhappily separated from us by technological barriers, and in our small family that’s a percentage I’m not comfortable with, particularly in a strange and worrisome time. Please use the “old fashioned” methods of telephone calls and/or written notes to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ve spent a fair bit of effort on the parish directory, which is online, or you can contact Mary or myself to get the information you need to help us keep the family together—corporate and in communion.
God bless you all.
Father Bill Burk†