And those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. Matthew 14:21
Old South has now held two online worship services, one on March 22 and the other this past Sunday, March 29. I’ll admit that I was very nervous about moving our worship experience online, especially as I thought about who might attend, and who likely would not. My guess for attendance for that first Sunday was around twelve. While twelve is a nice biblical number and certainly above the quorum set by Jesus himself (wherever two or three are gathered in my name . . . ), it would not have been a very good number at Old South. We are a small church, to be sure, but not that small. But, we are an older church with several people who don’t even own computers and others who are not particularly amenable to learning new ways of using their computers.
Our online worship experience, though, has been quite the surprise. For the first service, we had about 28. This past Sunday, we had about 40. Not including pets, or puppets (this past Sunday, one person, who had noticed the presence of pets the previous Sunday, brought a puppet, in the absence of any live animals in his household). And there were definitely a few pets, like Tad the cat who doesn’t like his owner talking to anyone but him.
I am certainly heartened by this. And hearing people check in with each other, seeking continued connection as the Body of Christ, before and after the service is both comforting and a little bit exciting.
Along with my tech guy (my husband) and my feedback crew at home (my young adult children who are not shy about offering “constructive feedback”), we are learning a lot (and quickly), about how to make this experience work with our platform of choice, Zoom. We’ve been learning about lighting and what I should be wearing (and not wearing– like black clothing). We’ve been learning about what the right length of an online service should be, and how to include music (a tricky, but important, part of our worship experience).
It’s fascinating to be in the midst of this radical change to how we are church. And while I’m relieved of much of that initial nervousness, I find that I must, in a conscientious way, keep my feelings of utter disconcertedness at bay– for those feelings are still very much present. I don’t like doing worship this new way. I miss the congregation being right in front of me. I miss the back-and-forth of our usual worship, the familiarity between preacher and parish. But, I must put those unsettled feelings aside and move bravely forward.
It has occurred to me, over and over again over the past couple of weeks, that there are significant opportunities here, especially for spiritual growth. And, it’s my job, whether I feel like it or not, to explore those opportunities and to find ways of laying out pathways for connection– to each other and to Christ.
Many need, in these strange and difficult days, spiritual feeding. Those who consider Old South their church home need to know the reality of care, grace, blessing, hope and love. It’s my job, my calling, to do what I can to provide that, to seek ways of linking these people with Christ, to help them open up to the spiritual food that Christ offers. Even as I struggle to ascend the steep learning curve of online worship (as well as other ways of gathering online), I know that I must.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so keenly my role as pastor, of shepherd to the good people of the congregation I serve, and beyond.
And, I trust that I will be shown the way.