Like everyone, I have been pondering how best to be safe in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. It seems that there must be a dozen or more new articles a day about what this school district and that public official or that doctor or health care system has to say about in-person experiences, testing, masks, and vaccines. And, as could be expected, each one of them has their own take, their own ideas of how to be careful (or not) as we drag into our third long year. In the midst of the din, a church member sent me an article by Tish Harrison Warren from the New York Times about her desire for the abolition of online worship experiences. While I disagree with the overall premise – that there is truly no place for a permanent digital worship experience even for those who are physically unable to attend in-person worship - I understood the author’s desire. I understand her conviction that the most meaningful experiences that we have as human beings are in the company of others, particularly in the area of the sacred. I understand her longing for community, and her exhortation that we hurry back to (safe) in-person worship as soon as we can.
I found myself, however, not convinced that we can do away with digital pathways to worship experiences. Partly, this is due to the ongoing threat of Covid, of course, and the weather and the distance that some people have to travel to get to church. Partly it is so that we can still provide a worship experience in some capacity even when members are away or ill. But more than that, more than any consideration of time and space and availability, I believe that God can and will use the Holy Spirit as God sees fit, using whatever method is available. Remember, it was once against the law for the Bible to be translated into the language of the people and yet, reading the word in a language that one could understand was undoubtedly a new (and definitely controversial) pathway to God when it became available to the common person.
I want us back in the Merriman chapel. I want to see you all, to greet you all, to meet some of you face to face for the first time. I want to hear your voices raised in song, to see your heads nod when you agree with the sermon, to know your prayer concerns without having to remember to look at the “chat” function, I want to hear you laugh. I believe for many of us, vaccinated and masked for now, the time is either here or soon. But I remain committed to providing many paths to worship – many ways to plug in to United digitally and in person - now and in the future. I look forward to seeing how our online ministry changes and grows in the post-Covid era, and I pray that that era begins soon.