By Nicholas Zork … Throughout much of the pandemic, I have bristled at the frequents mentions of getting “back to normal.” COVID-19 further revealed profound, longstanding societal issues in North America and around the world.
The pandemic did not create a world in which access to health care, food security, job security, and more were so unevenly distributed. But the crisis was revelatory for many of us. It brought underlying inequities, racial injustices, and social tensions into undeniably sharp relief. And if a return to “normal” means our vision becomes once again unfocused enough to ignore what we’ve seen and continue embracing the status quo, then “normal” should be avoided at all costs. We need a bold vision of a new world and not blurry nostalgia for an unjust past to propel us forward.
And yet when I think about what kind of world, church, and worship practices I intend to help cultivate as we emerge out of the pandemic, I find myself realizing just how important some “normal” aspects of life truly are. What I’ve missed most over much of the past year were not the extraordinary, novel—and, in that sense, abnormal—dimensions of worship. It was the regular stuff that became most palpably absent over time. As my congregation prepares for a return to in-person worship, I’ve immensely enjoyed the sound of the church’s most experienced singers once again singing in harmony. I’ve appreciated incredible speakers who’ve been able to join us online from wherever they were located. And I haven’t taken for granted my church’s unusually large paid team of audio engineers, videographers, musicians, and platform developers, who make our hybrid in-person and online worship practices possible.
But what I’ve most missed are things that those resources can neither create nor replace: the varied sound of “ordinary” vocalists singing in the pews and in our no-audition-required choir, the after-worship embrace of a friend I haven’t seen in ages, serendipitous encounters with a worship guest from out of town who knows one of my family members (a very normal occurrence for Adventists). I miss trying to talk my young children into eating an amazing entree at the fellowship meal, eventually giving up and eating it myself, and just being glad they get to play with their friends while I talk with mine. Jesus left us with few clearer worship instructions than the importance of eating together. And sadly, a “normal” large shared meal will likely be the last aspect of the worship experience to be recovered.
I have come to more fully recognize that worship—in its most essential form—is not actually an extraordinary event at all. Rather, worship is a transfiguration of the ordinary that helps us more fully appreciate God and our community, rehearses ordinary life as a liturgy of love, and gives us new eyes to see how God is always present to us and how we can be more present to one another.
So as we continue to determine what the “new normal” of our worship practices will be, may we take time to appreciate the normal, ordinary things that will increasingly be available to us: human contact, conversation, and food. And may we ask not merely what new practices we can create but, more importantly, how we can make what we already have more accessible, inclusive, and equitable. Ordinary life is a miracle too splendid not to be shared. We are all guests at God’s table; and there is room for everyone. May we live into that new normal together.
–Nicholas Zork is the editor of Best Practices for Adventist Worship, an email newsletter published by the North American Division and minister for worship and the arts at Church of the Advent Hope in Manhattan; photo by iStock
This article was originally published on the NAD Ministerial Association website