I was glad when they said unto me, let us go in person to the house of the Lord. (Psalm 122:1 FPV Forrest’s paraphrased version)
I have been so excited the last few weeks to go to numerous in-person worship services. It was a delight at the end of March for the Bishop and cabinet to hold our twice monthly gathering in person after 2 years of meeting almost exclusively on zoom. The clergy of the district reconnected for the first time in two years with a Bishop’s Day Apart retreat! Yesterday, it was exciting to launch Holy Week on Palm Sunday with the in-person gathered community of faith.
Throughout the pandemic I have hungered for human personal interaction. The virtual and computer life has sure been convenient and made work, school and basic life participation more possible for many and imperative for some; but life hasn’t been the same. Now with in-person attendance numbers languishing behind pre-pandemic numbers, the not so rhetorical questions are, “Where are the people?” and “Will they ever come back?”
Those questions likely have multiple answers, but two responses stick out to me. First, rather than waiting for people to return to the way things used to be, let us assess the needs of people in this nearly post covid reality that includes economic distress, the specter of war and the persistent cultural and denominational differences that threaten to divide us. In the Church of Jesus Christ, we too often lament the “fightings within and fears without.” In focusing on what is wrong with the world and wrong with our own institution we send signals that subtly turn people away.
On the other hand, if we come together and exhibit the characteristics of people who trust in God and love one another; if we are reflective of a healthy community of faith, and seek to engage our community, people connect and people come. The human heart hungers for belonging and that hunger cannot be filled from online worship, casino gambling, sleeping in on Sunday or a cup of coffee while reading the New York Times. We hunger for unconditional love, for acceptance, for purpose, for hope, for community.
In the book of Hebrews, we are asked to “not abandon the meeting together as is the habit of some but encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25). We are called to worship and study and serve and fellowship together as an expression of our trust in God in order that we might be an encouragement to others as we walk this journey of life. The faith of Jesus Christ is a participation event! We need one another!
During this Holy Week I look forward to multiple opportunities to worship as we walk with Jesus through betrayal, beatings, the cross, death and grief even as we hold hope in resurrection. Though I know that God is with me, I don’t want to walk alone. Will you come with me? See you in church! And invite a friend!
Gracious God, thank you for placing us in a wonderous world filled with people. Help us to not isolate ourselves but gather us together so that we might encourage each other in this complex journey of life. Thank you for Jesus who lived our life and sought to bring us together in one Church united through his sacrificial love. Amen.