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WHERE TWO OR MORE ARE GATHERED, EVEN FOR BINGO


I will admit that for years I have been a little judgmental when hearing the words, “I don’t need to go to church. I can worship God just as well while I’m out in nature. Only God and me, without all the hypocrites.” My response in my head goes something like: But you grow more in your faith and spiritual experience being in the presence of others - worshiping as a family of God, and hypocrites, together. However, since I rarely use the words of wisdom rehearsed in my head, and end up with a more “impassioned” statement (it’s the tone, not the words, as my daughters have shared) I usually don’t say much of anything.


Along came 2020. At first, no one was able to attend church. Eventually, most churches offered an online version to somewhat replicate what had been taking place in person. This has been extremely challenging for most pastors and their staff. It turns out, there is something quite different about sitting by yourself, or even just your immediate family, staring at a screen. It doesn’t feel the same. I’ve enjoyed the messages, the creativity, and seeing the videos that include our beautiful sanctuary and even our empty pew. The music has been very meaningful, but I don’t sing along. I’m too self-conscious, even with just my husband and dog “listening.”


When I walk, even just around our backyard, I listen to the birds and look up at the beautiful trees and sky and feel like maybe all those folks I judged were really onto something. The connection with God feels very real and powerful. So, what is missing? Do I expect the online services to show me photos of the ocean and mountains and waterfalls? Frankly, I did kind of hope to see those occasionally.


Remember how I said I really enjoy conferences? Well, I signed up for another one on a day when it felt like I needed to “grow” more. In spite of the many nice remarks and expressions of gratitude our church members have shared with me, I still have felt very “unqualified” to be their lay leader. This leadership conference is being hosted, virtually of course, by the largest United Methodist Church in the United States - The Church of the Resurrection. The pastor there is Adam Hamilton, a name I’m sure you’re familiar with. It seems strange to even call him a pastor, though. He is a visionary and a willing vessel like no one I have ever seen. He spoke for only 15 minutes during the short introductory session and I felt like I knew his whole history, his whole reason for continuing the work that he does, and most importantly, his vision for the future. A vision? In 2020? Here’s the thing...he looked right into that camera at the end of his message and said things. To ME. I don’t even remember what they were - something about how we’re all hurting and wanting to give up right now. You may be thinking that’s just a good evangelist or great marketing. But it wasn’t. It was something else.

Then came the musical portion of this introductory worship experience. They were singing their hearts out in this sanctuary - not a crowd, just the singers. And they were dressed in regular clothes; they were different ages and races, and probably sexual orientations. And it was so beautiful and I sang along, by myself. Before worship, I had seen so many hundreds of participants signing in to chat with fellow attendees from all over the world that it felt like I was friends with all of them and we were sitting and worshiping together and it was glorious. Then I glanced over at the continuing chat and started reading the comments. SO MANY negative comments about the distance the choir members may have been from each other, and what kind of message was that sending. And I was suddenly headed down that rabbit hole, transported back to a place where worship can’t really happen. I quickly switched to full-screen mode and brought myself back. Quite frankly, during those few minutes of worship, I had forgotten about COVID and social distancing and masks, and I never thought that could happen again. A slap of reality hit when Adam Hamilton walked to the lectern wearing his mask. There it is.


I learned and understood a lot more that evening - about myself, about worship, and about how God works. While I have felt the chat portion of our church’s online services is very important for that initial greeting and “ritual of friendship” we’re missing, I can understand how it can take you away from worshiping God.


Our church recently offered our members a socially-distanced food pickup and bingo event in the parking lot. It wasn’t a huge number of people, but I can tell you one thing: IT WAS WORSHIP. In a way that I haven’t experienced since March. The bingo was fun, but almost felt like the chat bar during the conference - like an interruption to something sacred. There was no sanctuary and no singing. But we were with God and each other in that cool evening air.


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Love this Janice!!! BINGO!!! Lol! I’ve come to the conclusion, that for me, this separation has forced me to try a little harder with God. I don’t have the setting and people and music to help me get to that spiritual place...I must strive for that solely on my own. It take more deliberation and more intent and more sincerity for me. It has been a blessing. God has met me each time!! Anyway...thank you so much for this blog!! You are such a wonderful sister in Christ! ❤️

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