Jean and I sat on the couch, a laptop open on the coffee table before us, as Sunday worship came to us, virtually. Far from being a disorienting experience, we found ourselves singing along to the hymns, saying the responses, and feeling a little choked up at some of the familiar parts. Afterward, we even sent off a cheque to say, "Thank you. Well done!"
Change only happens when it's forced upon us. Otherwise we prefer things the way they've always been, even if those things were unpleasant or unsustainable. Familiar trumps strange. Always. But hard times can offer up new possibilities. Dark days can yield their own kind of light, if we're open.
An inkling of such possibilities has shown up during the pandemic. Churches have scrambled to keep their truth lines open, streaming worship services from silent sanctuaries, and preaching sermons to the faithful from the pastor’s messy home study. For many of us, it's unlike anything we've seen before.
But an odd thing has happened. People are finding they like worshipping this way, in their PJ’s, with a coffee at hand, ambling off to take a pee break whenever nature calls. No one has to bundle up and venture out in their cars to find parking, or wait for public transit to amble along. I know of two instances where church attendance has actually increased during this time of social isolation.
Even weekday programs, like Bible studies and meditation groups, are now being given the Zoom treatment, everyone logging in online and participating, just as they did before, though I'm not sure how this works with a group of silent meditators.
I've now heard several clergy talking about keeping this going, even after everyone's let out of their homes. It rankles with everything traditional Christianity has said about church-going, namely, you have to be there. Attendance matters. Participation matters. But what about virtual church as an alternative, especially for a plugged-in younger generation and, at the other end, seniors and shut-ins? You can't go to church, or don't want to? No problem. Church will come to you, right into your living room, or onto your sickbed tray table.
As much as the Body of Christ requires that we be part of one another, each making a unique contribution to the whole, does it all have to be done face to face, requiring buildings and board rooms and multi-floor accessibility? Could at least some of our work be done remotely, virtually? I think it can. And probably, it should. Welcome to E-Church.