This is a time of many “firsts.” I suspect this is true of everyone. Our church staff, like all congregations and organizations, are having to ask, “How will we do this now that we cannot do it as we once did?” “Touch,” connection, and being together is so crucial to the existence of any organization, but there are peculiar ways that we do church. Communion, literally “in common” is ideally done with shared loaf and common cup. But we have done our first “virtual” Maundy Thursday and Easter, too.
As the mind anticipates the weeks ahead, it has raised a lot of interesting challenges. How do we ordain without the laying on of hands? How do we have Sunday School for children and Vacation Bible School without being in the building? Should we take temperatures and administer tests before baptism? A lot to think about.
This is not without precedent, of course. The church has been through all sorts of times in history when gathering was difficult or even temporarily impossible. And innovation always results from such times. These become the new “rituals.” Ritual is necessary. It is the way we negotiate passages in life. So, we’re having to reinvent them. What they become are our “rhythms” of life. You can’t work all the time, play all the time, or heaven forbid, be online all the time. You have to do other things. Some carry on as is, others have to be reconceived. People are figuring it out, more or less.
On Monday, of course, we did our first online memorial service for Dr. William Poe. The only live event was the graveside service in Tuscaloosa with eight of us present–three caregivers, his son Allan and daughter Jody, Cherri Morriss and two funeral directors. It was a beautiful day and we stood round the outside of the green awning over the grave. Everyone was masked except me. The Lord’s Prayer by Malotte and Amazing Grace were sung acapella. I read a selection from a little book Dr. Poe had written, a memoir. The chapter I read was about the faithfulness of God in all things.
It was different, but in other ways, it was the same—we prayed, we worshiped, we remembered. And there was the familiar peace that comes at every graveside. We had finished a responsibility to one another, passed through the door from one part of life to another, and turned to the new time.
What has been a great discovery in this odd time when our love must be imagined and transmitted through symbols across screens is that love abides. Relationship endures. That we had fellowship before the Great Separation enables us not to truly be separated emotionally and spiritually, only physically.
I have marveled at the innovations of my fellow staff members as they have labored creatively to keep our church together, moving and continuing its life. I have appreciated the extraordinary and manifold giftedness of this church and its members in adapting. I don’t know what “new normal” will be, but the essential realities of our life in this world is carrying on just fine.
We cannot hug, shake hands, or eat together, but love still connects, unstoppably. We still do the things we need to do, and God shows us new ways that still accomplish it. Even death does not disrupt this extraordinary phenomenon called love among human beings and God. That said, as a religion of “incarnation,” Jesus following cannot exist “virtually” forever. It will have to take earthly, fleshly form again.
The work has not changed, only figuring out how to get it done. As an attorney in my church said he told his firm, “This is also an opportunity.” Not everything we used to do is worth continuing. And neither is possible for everything to change–some things are enduring and worth continuing. Others must be thanked for their service and graciously laid to rest.
What matters is that we do not leave the important work of life undone while waiting for things to work out. That is the great mistake we might make. Life is still here to be lived, the life we have now.
How Not to Waste an Apocalypseby Guy Sayles
7 Things Churches are Learning During the Pandemic by Barry Howard