Sunday, March 29, 2020

I Miss Church

It has been two weeks since our church closed its doors “until further notice” because of the coronavirus pandemic. The same with the church in our town where I used to be the pastor and still visit – and preach - occasionally. I miss them both. I miss church.

The pastors of both congregations are doing an excellent job keeping in touch with their parishioners. They send out daily email devotions. They have video and audio recordings of Sunday services, which they record in an empty sanctuary. My wife and I sit side by side in our living room on Sunday mornings and listen to them both on my laptop. We sing along with the hymns, read the scriptures aloud, and pray together. I even get on the computer and send an electronic offering. It’s nice, but it isn’t the same.

Our pastor says that soon he is going to put the Tuesday study group on Zoom. I am looking forward to it. But it won’t be the same. I miss church. I miss seeing the people and shaking their hands. I miss the small talk before and after the service. I miss hearing the choir sing. I miss the organ music. Many churches now have a worship band with guitars and electronic keyboard, but I prefer an organ. It communicates the holy to me.

I miss church. I am one of those people who rarely misses Sunday worship. This will be the first time in probably forty-five years that I have not been in church for two Sundays in a row. When away from home we always find a church to visit. When traveling to western Pennsylvania on a weekend I have been known to pull off a highway exit on Sunday morning, find a church in which to worship, and then continue on our journey after lunch. You might call me a churchaholic. (I wonder if there is a twelve step group for church addicts like me.)

All my life I have heard people give their reasons why they do not attend church. They say that they do not need a church to worship and serve God. They say that they can worship God better by walking in the woods and enjoying nature. They can recite a litany of complaints against the institutional church and organized religion. They say that they are spiritual but not religious. Not me. I miss church.

There is a reason why the church is called the Body of Christ. In Christianity the physical is as important as the spiritual. The physical presence of other people communicates the presence of God. The physical elements of Holy Communion communicates the presence of Christ. The physical rituals in worship communicate the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is why I need church.

Digital worship is just not the same. Video teachings do not connect as deeply as a physical presence. I know the value of online ministry. I have a blog, a podcast, and a YouTube channel. I know these are valuable tools in this digital age. They are helpful substitutes for pastors to use in this time of pandemic when people cannot get out to church.  But they are not enough.

We need the physical. That is why God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The teachings of Christ are not enough; we need him. We need physical presence. That is what we celebrate at Christmas. That is why we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter. That is why Christianity has always stressed the importance of the physical world and the physical needs of people. The church – the people, not the building – is the physical presence of God in the world.

That presence is what I need. This is what we all need. I miss church.