What does it mean to resume worship?

If you’re like me you’ve spent the last 14 months away from any physical church building. With the onset of COVID-19, I thought I was saying “goodbye” to church for a few weeks at most; a vacation of sorts that I was looking forward to — I mean don’t we all want a few Sunday’s off? Obviously, I had no idea that it would be another 15 months before I was truly safe, and fully able to return to church.

I spent the beginning of quarantine inundated with Zoom prayer calls and church videos and sermons being live-cast or re-cast online. We praised the Lord for technology and the togetherness offered over prayers and through readings. We shifted to figure out how we could serve one another without physical proximity at a time when no act of service felt sufficient. We prayed. We sang songs of mourning. We re-read the psalms with a new perspective, and prepared for Easter where a few of us were too afraid to mutter “Hallelujah” amid the continual death and suffering of our loved ones, our neighbours, our fellow Americans, and citizens of the world.

Some of us might have participated in virtual bible studies, virtual VBS or if lucky enough, a safe and social-distant summer worship session. We prepared our hearts, minds, and communion tables for the virtual celebration of Christmas. And we looped back around for one more Lenten season amid the suffering, with the light of vaccinations and hope of summer pushing us to potentially sing “Hallelujah” at Easter this time.

Although our physical proximity to church has been dictated by mandates and orders and COVID-19 protocol, I sense that our spiritual proximity has been changed even more.

With the over 3.3 million covid related deaths world-wide , racial injustice, police brutality, civil unrest, an intense and heightened presidential election cycle, humanitarian crises that have arisen over the past year, voting rights, equal internet access, zoom-fatigue, women’s rights in the workplace, the education, health, and wealth gap increasing, and more, I am sure I feel more spiritually distant to church than physically. Not to mention the numerous “Christian celebrities” and leaders who have changed denominations or stepped away from “church” altogether.

I now find myself physically able to attend church and spiritually unwilling.

And I am sure I am not alone in this. I have chatted with friends who have seen and are angry at the lack of response from church leaders to step up and stand for human rights, or bring compassion and love amid social, political, and civil tension. I have heard friends say, “I don’t really trust the church these days”. Over the past year, I have felt this more than ever before. Where I have normally looked to church leaders or sermons, I have instead found podcasts, book groups — or in complete honesty, avoided all thoughts of making meaning out of the suffering around me by binging on the most popular Netflix show (remember Tiger King?).

And so, I am wondering what to do now. How do I go back to this physical space of church and “resume worship”? What does that mean? Or rather, what does that look like? How do I as a lay-person learn to trust church again? And — as I am sure pastors are wondering themselves — how should pastors talk, engage with, and walk alongside those who feel isolated and hurt over the actions or inactions of the American Church this past year?

I don’t believe there is an easy answer. I do think asking these questions is essential but it is also hard. They require us to stop and think about the ways that we as Christians have collectively ignored the hurt and suffering of our neighbors amid the chaos of the pandemic. It requires us to acknowledge the times that we unknowingly pushed aside the marginalised. These questions might even stir up convictions or feelings of frustration with the theology, worship traditions, or biblical interpretations we have been taught and hold. The questions in community might make us act and “be” different than we have been used to as a church.

One thing I do know is that I am thankful that this is not the first time the church has been in conflict. I look at almost all of Paul’s letters as a moment to know that this tension between church tradition isn’t novel. The Pauline epistles, uncomfortable and difficult for various reasons, clearly indicate that there was tension among church leaders, lay-peoples, and the community at large. Our tensions may be different — although I believe they still stem from similar political, social, and economic roots — we as the world church have faced these conversations before, and we can again.

I am not sure what it looks like to “resume worship” but I do know that we must step into conversation within Christian community and do the hard work of acknowledging the ways that we have failed. And then, after we have lamented, walk towards new paths of worship, service, and love. And together we will pray and continue to pray:
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”