I went to church today for the first time since early March to sit in the congregation.
Church was both weird and wonderful.
Our downtown church is still finding it’s feet during this pandemic. This is the first service with attenders since March–and we are working out the kinks. About 80 people were invited to test the systems–to find out how to adhere to guidelines.
Church is to be a place of healing, not of making people ill.
In a time where some churches have defied the guidelines, used arguments about freedoms, and deliberately disobeyed authorities, I’m delighted to attend a church that has worked to keep it’s parishoners safe. Gathering is possible apart. And now gathering together is also possible–with precautions that require careful and deliberate planning by leaders and cooperation and collaboration by participants.
Here’s what happened:
- We had to sign up in advance to allow for adequate planning. Today, leaders and key volunteers were asked to go, not as a sign of privilege, but as participants to work out the kinks to make it safe for everyone in the weeks to come.
- We arrived 15 minutes early as requested. Masks were an expectation. We were told to not show up if we had any symptoms of illness.
- Folks in masks asked us a health questionnaire at the door.
- Another pair at the inner doors gave us all a generous squirt of hand sanitizer which we knew in advance we were to accept.
- We were shown our assigned seats, sitting together only with our “bubble”. Assigned seats will assist with contact tracing, should it become necessary.
- We kept our masks on at all times. No moving around. Lots of waving and crinkling eyes suggesting a mask-hidden smile.
- There was advance notice that the church was a “no hug” zone–a wise comment not only because it adheres to health guidelines but because it’s so tempting to embrace people I care about that I haven’t seen for months!
- Only those that sang or spoke had their masks off–but the singers had a clear shield in front of them.
- At the end, we were ushered out, row by row outside. No lingering or visiting inside.
- We are to expect an email survey tomorrow to allow us provide our comments and perspectives to allow the church safety planners to make changes to improve the system.
I was proud of us.
We did not merely give lip service to precautions. The i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed to ensure the safety of the people who attend. We loved each other by making the whole gathering very inhospitable to the growth of the virus.
It felt safe. It was safe.
Before this morning, I was skeptical of the whole thing, to be honest. So much of collective spiritual services is the communion of people–the being together. The experience of gathering is part of expressing and living in community–to grieve and support and love each other. When the fifth row is 2/3’s of the way back, would there be a sense of togetherness?
Not gonna lie. Gathering together with COVID-19 precautions was not the same.
But it was worth it.
We ended with a song entitled, The Blessing. I have a rather addictive habit of listening to virtual choirs during this pandemic. I like the feeling of knowing we are alone together. This song, sung this morning, did me in.
There’s something about being blessed that does it for me. (I recently created a blessing for school/teachers/students/administrators/parents because if the feeling of being blessed is one I love so much, I wanted to pass on a blessing to others.)
There is an elderly man who attends our church–tiny and stooped. A pastor found him this spring with his ear against the crack in the door on a Sunday morning. D doesn’t have access to a computer and leaning against the door to catch a whiff of the songs that made their way out the door. He needed the community of church, and took the crumbs he could make available to himself.
(When even 25 were allowed in the building, they encouraged him to come and sit in a chair in the middle of the building)
This morning, D was in the row in front of me…empty chairs beside him. But he was there. When only small portions of the congregation can come every week, he will be invited weekly.
That’s what church does. It looks after the people in ways that make sense.
Church may not be your thing. But I think gathering together with others to make meaning is all of our thing. It’s not easy, and it involves changes to what it looks like–but it’s vital to our humanity.
The ministry of presence is vital to survival and wellbeing.