Join [Church] Meeting

After church on Sunday, the post-worship conversation turned to how we’re all holding up and adapting through the first fortnight of these pandemic days. It was good to check in and be checked in on. One member lamented the disappointment and stress of having to cancel her son’s wedding. I shared the psychological weight I feel with the closing of the U.S / Canadian border, knowing that I could not physically get to my mother or my in-laws should the need arise. We also voiced “silver linings.”  One couple returned from Mexico to two-weeks of mandatory quarantine to find their fridge already stocked by family and friends. Another member commented on the change in the political tone: the usual partisan rancour giving way to a more civil discourse stemming from a growing realisation that, no matter our positions or convictions, we really are all in this together.

It was good conversation, the type of conversation that helps make church church.

We then waved goodbye until next Sunday. But instead of rounding up my kids, collecting my coat, and tracking down my travel mug, I simply clicked “End Meeting” and made my way back upstairs to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup.

Like other pastors across North America and around the world, my staff and I have devoted much of our time and energy in recent days to figuring out how to move Sunday morning from the sanctuary into cyberspace. That will be our exclusive gathering place and worship space for the coming weeks (perhaps months). It’s not a new frontier, exactly, in 2020; but it is uncharted territory nonetheless. For churches like ours who have not webcast their services prior to now, culturally we’re having to make a quantum leap from the late 1980s into the 21st century.

One of the shiniest “silver linings” I see in this forced adaptation is that, as a pastor and a leader, I’ve been thinking more intentionally about connection than about programming or sermon craft. A chunk of that deliberation has come in the form of figuring out online platforms and camera positions and lighting angles; but all of it has been in service of the question: how do we continue to be in fellowship as the body of Christ across the divides of social-distancing and self-isolation? In short, how do we stay connected? This is the fundamental question of this moment in time for the Church.

In truth, questions of connection are foundational for the Church at all times. Connection is what the church’s best, truest self has at its core: a bond, a mission, an identity born from and built upon love of God and love of neighbour. We are a body, after all, Paul declares – Christ’s body, in fact: the gospel incarnate in our particular time and place. We are many members who belong to Christ and thus belong to one another in the name of Christ. If this pandemic helps us to  recover that, it will prove a washed-up treasure that will enrich us and sustain us after the storm passes.

There’s a real irony in all of this, of course. Loneliness has been growing within Western societies to such an extent that the United States and Britain now recognise it as a public health concern. The same economic, political, and technological evolutions that have enabled me to read newspaper articles from New Zealand on my laptop from the comfort of my couch have separated me from the folks who likewise sit on their couches glued to their screens across the street. That social distancing did not begin with the Coronavirus.  Perhaps, however, this pandemic will prove disruptive enough to start bringing us back together. Perhaps it’ll jog our memories: togetherness doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it.

The post worship conversation, the chat box banter during the service – the connection – turned out to be the real gift of our first real online worship experience: to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, human face to human face, human voice to human voice, even if we needed a screen and a mic to facilitate. The content delivered by the lighting angles and the camera positions through the online platform wasn’t bad, either, and will continue to matter as it does on any given Sunday. But in the coming weeks (perhaps months) the connection we help to cultivate with each other, and to God through each other, will be what really helps us to ride out this storm.

So, fellow pastors, as another week begins and we debrief and continue to experiment with camera positions and lighting angles for Sunday worship, let’s devote at least as much time figuring out how to take coffee hours, game nights, and life groups into cyberspace – all the things beyond liturgy and sermons and music that make church church. They’re foundational, and we’re going to need them.

A Place at the Table: Day 5

Monday – This morning I decided to try dividing up my pasta into two portions: one to eat late morning, one to eat mid-afternoon  I wanted to see if that might make getting to dinner a little easier. I was also facing a situation I was unsure of how to handle.

My church, First Baptist Hyattsville, serves lunch to the needy in our community four times a year.  Other churches in the area provide free midday meals most weekdays and have for years.  But in the late-1980s, our church learned that no meals were served on four of the Monday federal holidays: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.  FBCH decided to fill those gaps so no one would have to go hungry just because government offices were closed, and Holiday Cafe was born.

One of the traditions we have at Holiday Cafe is that those who provide the food and help serve eat together after all the guests have been fed (assuming there is food left over, and most of the time there is).   The question facing me was: should I eat or not?  Something about it didn’t seem consistent with the idea of fasting. On the other hand, if I were subject to my minimum wage food allowance truly ($1.07 per meal – $3.21 per day!), I think I would be seeking out free meals like Holiday Cafe to help me get by.  Eating a plate of food was not going to cost me anything.  Still, I was uneasy about it.  By the time I got ready to head out the door, I still had not made up my mind so I decided to eat a little pasta (with tomato sauce only) to help me have clearer focus in my deliberations.  I figured if I sat in the fellowship hall with an empty stomach surrounded by trays of pulled pork barbecue and homemade fried chicken, I would be easy prey to the voices urging me to eat, regardless of what I ultimately decided.

My strategy worked.  I was not overly hungry while I helped serve food and chatted with our guests while they ate.  In the end, all the barbecue and fried chicken got eaten so I didn’t have to make a decision.  I did take home five apples I was offered.  The church member who offered them to me has been following this blog and said, “you don’t have any fruits and veggies for the week; why don’t you take these?”  So I did – with thanks.  When I got home, I ate the rest of my pasta (topped with chicken this time) around 2:30pm.  Making it to 6:00pm was much easier from there.

Shortly after I finished eating, my wife called to say she found a bag of coffee on clearance at Marshall’s for $3.00.   Score!   She asked me if I wanted her to buy it and I said yes.   It’s a light roast, which isn’t something I usually like, but IT’S COFFEE and with the remaining money have (after paying my wife back $3.00 for the coffee) I should have just enough to get some half-n-half.  (And I mean just enough.  If there is tax charged, I won’t be able to get it; but there shouldn’t be since it’s not a prepared food).

Dinner tasted so good.  I ate two hotdogs (no bun), a mess of fries, and a couple of servings of green peas. I got hungry again around 11:30pm, so I had a bowl of cereal.  I honestly don’t know how I would live on $3.21 a day.

I went to bed thinking more about Holiday Cafe – not whether I should have eaten or not, but about access.  If I was working 38 hours a week at a minimum wage job, would I have been able to get to Holiday Cafe even if I knew about it?  It would all depend on my schedule, bus routes, and where my job was located in relation to the church.  No doubt it would be a BIG help to me, but chances are I would not be able to take advantage of it unless “the stars aligned” just right.   That bothers me, and adds nuance to the phrase “the plight of the poor.”

Lord, thank you for midnight snacks.  Continue to help me not to take such things for granted.  And please open our eyes to see the poor among us – and their needs.  Teach us love, mercy, and compassion and show us how we can better minister to them in Your Name.  Amen.

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 546 other followers

  • RSS Weekly Scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary

  • Editor’s Choice

  • Recent Posts

  • Previous Posts

  • Categories

  • Art Matters

    Marc Chagall, The White Crucifixion, 1938

  • Follow Me on Twitter @RevBTT