Church Away from Church

It’s been ten months since our church has gathered in person in our church building. In that time, the church leadership has been so careful, considerate, and cautious which has been greatly appreciated as we have monitored local COVID-19 numbers and trends. Thankfully the church has also been extremely creative in keeping us connected during this time which has been possible thanks to technology and those who know how to wield such tools well. There have been outdoor services (last summer and fall) in the park, drive-through-town processions while listening to Sunday service on the radio, remote Sunday School lessons recorded and shared on the church’s YouTube page, and, of course, the weekly LiveStream on Facebook.

Since this post is about church, I must be honest and admit that I also have some confessions to make. The first is, although I have listened to/watched many if not most weeks, I have not made my family do much of that. The kids have been pretty consistent with their Sunday School lessons at home, but that credit goes to their dad, not me. When we were doing eSchool to start the year and I was in charge of three kids zooming and such from home every day I absolutely could not entertain the idea of making them do videos on the weekend, too. Thankfully Ben wasn’t as daunted by that idea and he’s continued to keep them engaged with those this whole school year. It helps that he is an actual Sunday School teacher and has even recorded two of the lessons along with some of our Bigs as helpers.

But the LiveStreams? That has been a time for me while the rest of the family does their thing around the house. The one part they consistently catch is the very end when our pastors sing “We are the Church” and as a giant side note: oh my, how all of us love that song and hope very much that that little benediction stays as part of service even when we are someday back in the actual sanctuary on Sundays.

So yes, I’ve been a little selfish with my Sunday mornings because I want to actually hear the message and not be so distracted by wrestling kids at the same time like I would during actual in-person church. This leads me to my second at-home confession: I’m not very good at just sitting and watching the LiveStreams. I blame this in part on the fact that in our 5ish years of attending First Pres, we have always had a bunch of little Littles in tow so, no, church service has never been a calm or still experience for me. I’m holding, shushing, feeding, or taking someone (or multiple someones) to the bathroom all the live-long (Sun)day, so how would I know how to just sit and listen?

At home my inability to just sit has transformed into some productive sessions while I watch/listen to service. I have had my coffee, I have done dishes, I have prepped and cooked meals, I have folded a LOT of laundry, and I have started feeding the kids lunch which is why they so often catch the final prayers and song around 11:30. I even used service to wrap Christmas books in December! But even with all this activity, I am listening and probably hearing even more than I get to when we are there in person.

This morning’s sermon touched on turning away from disconnect and distraction and it struck some cords with me. While I suppose my house-holder duties done during church might look like some icky, distracted multitasking to some, I’ve been quite grateful to have these months of hymns, prayers, announcements, and sermons to keep me company while I do the necessary tasks of caring for my family (even if I don’t let them listen with me) in a prolonged time of stress and loneliness. It makes me feel more connected to my broader community to use my church time to lighten the load of a busy mother (who is, yes, often distracted); it’s like a layer of blessing is added on top of those chores that would otherwise just be, well, chores.

There was another takeaway message from today’s service that charged us with checking in with our church family and to pray for those we would normally sit by on Sundays. I mean, seriously – maybe there is a church out there that doesn’t do voluntary assigned seats, but I have yet to be part of one, and in our current life we are Balcony People all the way where there are lots of wiggly, noisy kids and their tired parents plus some very patient other adults. As chaotic and sweaty as all that is, I miss it. I miss getting time there with the friends, family, and church family who love on and help take care of my not-so-little crew as we navigate Sunday mornings together. And now, as I reflect back on my own Sunday morning routines during the pandemic, I am also curious to know what those same Balcony People (and those who sit down below) have been doing with their Sunday services at home. Perhaps I am not the only one doing two things at once?

All told, I can’t wait to be back in person, as I’m sure all of my church family agrees. Will I miss being able to fold laundry or clean the kitchen at the same time? No, not at all because those tasks are always going to be there. But if we’ve learned anything in the last year it’s that what is is not a given. When we can safely gather again in places and spaces with our people, it is going to be such a welcome gift, one I hope we carry with us in the years to come as we continue to move with love, service, justice, and humility in this world.

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