Yesterday was the first day my church gathered corporately since our governor instituted a stay-at-home order in mid-March. After nearly three months of worshiping from home via livestream or home group Bible study, we were finally permitted to gather together en masse.
When things changed back in March, it didn’t phase me too much. We’ll adapt and change in these temporary times, I thought. And my church had only one week prior been able to do livestream, so the timing couldn’t have been better. So, we “did church” at home (you know, like in the Early Church era!). It wasn’t bad. No travel time, didn’t have to dress up, could slouch on the couch, and most importantly for introverts, we didn’t have to endure greeting strangers around us during that awkward time between the last song and when we sit down to hear announcements! Life was good.
And so I enjoyed the new routines, less travel, and fewer commitments other than to keep our kids a little less distracted than normal (we didn’t have our pets to distract us before).
Our church leadership actually canceled services before they were required to, out of caution for a very uncertain future. In the months since, it became clear that they have navigated these waters with prudence, wisdom, and a great deal of prayer. At a church of about 1500 attendees, an outbreak could cost lives and potentially make national news, which would also make all Christians look bad.
So what was it like to return to corporate worship? Our congregation returned to its usual two services, one with mask required and a second with mask optional. To be honest, I was secretly wondering which of the people in my church, many of whom I hadn’t communicated with in months, would be the mask-wearing type (at the optional service) or the naked-face type. Imagine that: sizing people up based on their choice to wear a mask or not! I saw elderly people without masks and young, healthy people wearing them. And at only 50% seating capacity, there was plenty of room to stay apart at comfortable levels.
As the service began and the music and singing started, I became unexpectedly a little emotional. I sang louder than normal. I did not anticipate this, primarily because I was enjoying the stay-at-home experience for several months. When our pastor stood up and smiled with open arms, everyone cheered! Because sharing and worshiping in a space together is a fundamentally human experience, it felt good to be back!
There’s another reason why this was cause for celebration for our particular church. After many years of planning and over a year of construction, our church had its first service in a brand new auditorium just one week prior to the stay-at-home order in our state. That means we had one worship service, and then … three months of empty services delivered by our pastor with some minimal support from the tech team. And had it not been for the completion of that auditorium just prior to the shutdowns, our church would have either been unable to or had to scramble to find a livestream solution for its congregation. Again, the timing was perfect, if you could call it that.
Humans were created to be social beings. This has been evident throughout the pandemic because people have been creatively working, playing, and “being” together in ways that were previously unthinkable. Our capacity for ingenuity is fueled by our passion to be with one another. It remains to be seen how creative we will need to be as the country and its churches slowly reopen. To do so safely will require creativity, and if we return to something resembling pre-COVID normalcy, we will do so only because we are determined to be a social species who need each other.