Growing up at the southwest tip of Lake Michigan, just about a mile from the shoreline, I had my share of snow days. My brothers and I took full advantage of the snow in every imaginable way, while my mother baked sugar cookies for us to decorate. We played board games and built puzzles and read books and reveled in not being at school. In a day or two, we were back in class, much to the relief of my mother.
Now, it feels like I’m having endless snow days, only without the sugar cookies and snow forts. I’m still working a full week, but rarely go in to the office. I transact real estate by computer, keep in touch with colleagues by text message, and have meetings through various programs available on my laptop. I’m tired of it, and I suspect you are as well.
I miss just walking into someone’s office to ask a question. I miss restaurants. And even when I do get out to a grocery store, it’s an eerie experience, with shelves emptied of critical supplies, people wearing masks, and everyone on edge as we move carefully to maintain a “safe” distance.
And I really, really miss church. I get my sermon every week, but it’s not the same. I can tell you from years of experience in the pulpit that a sermon is an interactive experience. You can feel the congregation going through the message with you, and when I see a speaker who is clearly alone in front of a camera, I know they are missing the feedback. For all they know I’m eating pistachios and spitting the hulls into a vase. I’d rather be there in person to feel, as well as hear, a good message.
I feel too silly singing along with the praise leaders, their I-phone sending out the video from their living room, he at the piano and she harmonizing. They are talented, I am not, and I don’t have a congregation to cover up my caterwauling so I just wait it out.
Even the prayer is awkward. It may be in real time, but if I’m not in the room with them, I don’t get the same connection.
You don’t know how important community is to you until you don’t have it. Work, shopping and church are all out of sync, and I don’t like it. I still work because I need to, and I still shop because I have to get stuff. But church is different. I still go to church online because I want it, I need it, and the barriers that make it feel strange can’t keep me from it.
The truth is, as much as I loved snow days, I was always ready to head back to school when the weather permitted. And I still cherish an unexpected day off from work, but I will be so glad to get back to the office routine when this is over.
And oh, how much I will be happy to get back to church. Whether I’m in the pulpit or the pew that first Sabbath back, I am going to praise God that I can get back to worship the way I enjoy, with real handshakes and all of us singing and a genuinely interactive sermon. How much I miss the community it gives me!
Right now, though, please take a minute to reflect on something: There are people in your church who miss it every week. They used to be there, but age and infirmity caught up with them, and against their wishes they are homebound on Sabbath mornings. They can catch a sermon online, but it’s not a substitute for being with people to praise God in His sanctuary. What you feel now, they feel regularly, and it’s not going to change in a few weeks or months. This is their life.
So, when you get back, rejoice! But also remember those who can’t get back. Pay a visit to someone who longs for the community we all used to take for granted.
—Doug Inglish, RMC Planned Giving and Trust Services director; photo by Rajmund Dabrowski