Everything is different at the moment! And church is no exception. We are not allowed to meet together in our church buildings, nor are we allowed, as clergy, to go into the church building to live stream or film a service to share later. And so we are having to rethink everything. How are we the church when we can’t meet together in the church building?
I have been surprised at some of my feelings so far. First, that I found myself in tears as I locked the churches up knowing that we wouldn’t worship together in them for some time. I have long been a believer, indeed preacher, of the truth that the church is not the building, its the people. I don’t believe that any less than I have always done, I just hadn’t realised how important it is for those people, the church, to gather together. And, of course, that normally happens in our church buildings and so they become special – made even more special when one remembers, perhaps even senses, the generations of Christians who have worshipped, prayed and met together there.
The other thing I have wrestled with is whether to record services, or live stream them for people. I haven’t yet been keen and I am trying to work out why. There are several reasons I think. The first, if I am honest, is a weird kind of self consciousness which has really surprised me as I don’t feel this in the same way week by week being upfront at church! The second is a genuine need to learn how to best use the technology available to us. But the main reason is a question about what ‘online’ church is, or does?
Some of my reluctance is not wanting to simply offer something that people can ‘watch’. Church, even fairly traditional ‘vicar-at-the-front’ kind of church is interactive and participatory. And something, not all, of this is lost in virtual interaction. As we head towards Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday in particular, I am struck by the physicality of our worship. We hold Palm Crosses, we process into church, we share the peace….we bread bread and pour wine, we wash feet, we strip the altar. How does this translate to zoom, or facebook live, or you tube?
I think we as the church have much to learn in this time, about how we connect with those who cannot ‘go to church’, about what technological advance are avilable to us to make us more accessible, but I also think we must accept that worship, indeed human interaction, has a physical aspect to it that is lost when we are home, alone.