As I write this in mid-March, many of us have had a new experience – church by livestream, Facebook Live or some other “remote” mechanism. In coming days, the reality of not being able to physically gather in the same way will likely become even more strange, and it is easy to worry about being disconnected. However, I am convinced that strange, difficult times and unusual experiences can offer gifts of insight and inspiration.
Years ago, I headed out on an Easter Sunday afternoon to attend a college mission service. It was a tiny gathering, but by the power of the Holy Spirit I wound up having a deep and moving experience of connectedness and the presence of God. It wasn’t that we had such beautiful worship, or the feeling of the power of two or three gathered in the Lord’s name – it was that, and so much more. I was overcome by a feeling of connection, not only to the tiny group of people gathered, but also to the people I had worshipped with that morning in my own parish, to my Bishop, and to the whole diocese. Suddenly what was going on in that room seemed huge, because of the presence of Christ, and because of being connected through Christ to the whole church. I was changed by that experience, and it shaped how I understand church and ministry.
The first Sunday we worshiped online across our diocese, I was able to pass through multiple online worship services and then join the National Cathedral’s online service. Many things touched me – seeing friends, colleagues and loved ones, and that same strange, but wonderful, experience of being connected. I was very touched when multiple people from around the diocese commented that, like me, they had been singing along.
The definition of “Corporate Worship” in the Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer says: “In corporate worship, we unite ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of god, to hear god’s Word, to offer prayer, and to celebrate the sacraments.” I know that is what happened, and I know that will continue as long as we need to abstain from public worship. My hope and prayer is that we also will be given the gift of new ideas and insights, ideas for how to grow together as the one body of Christ.
We are not really divided or separated, not ever, and not now. We are one diocese coming together to do what we must. We can be comforted and assured that no matter how isolating these weeks may seem, we are united one to another in Christ, and we will be given gifts for building up the Body of Christ, the church, which is all of us.