Like many churches, the church I serve closed its doors last March due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 virus. All of a sudden, we had to start thinking outside the box, not something most mainline churches are really very good at.
A bunch of “old dogs” like myself had to learn some new tricks. I learned how to tape services on an iPad. This led to upgrades in our audio and video capabilities and we joined the throng of churches posting on Facebook and YouTube. We learned how to Zoom. I even taught myself how to create a podcast!
I will be honest, it has been both terrifying and fun. Trust me, they never taught me anything about worship and technology back in seminary. Keep in mind, none of us even had computers at that time!
During the past six months I have heard people express their appreciation for the effort, the willingness to experiment and try something new. At the same time, I have also heard people talk about how much they miss gathering for worship as a community. They miss the fellowship.
I get that. Preaching to an empty sanctuary is unsettling. Not seeing members of the congregation is lonely. Many of my colleagues are mostly extroverts - they like people, they like the interaction, some even crave it.
But some of that is starting to change. The congregation I serve is cautiously returning to in-sanctuary worship. We are socially distanced. We are masked up. We are saving our singing voices for that day when we can enthusiastically belt out our favorite hymns, without concern for “droplets."
We are taking the appropriate baby steps. And I sense some excitement returning. And this leads me to remind folks as to why we gather as a faith community.
I say this because I recently read an article about why people attend church. The article was based on a survey someone did. The answers are usually along the lines of: “I want my children to learn the Bible stories;" “Our church is friendly, and we need community;" “We love good music;” and so on.
Rarely does anyone respond, “To worship God.” Plain and simple. Straightforward. That is the reason we come to church. Believers assemble to worship because God has called them together.
In worship, the community of God’s people meet to hear God’s word spoken in scripture, sermon, sacraments, music and liturgy. Sometimes it is done well; other times, well, the effort is appreciated. But through it all, that which is proclaimed and acted out in worship creates faith. And through faith, the community responds with praise, obedience and commitment.
Participating year after year in corporate worship in which scripture is central prevents God’s people from creating a religion that’s grown out of some private notion about God. It keeps Christ at the center and not something transitory. The discipline of common worship enables faith to pass from person to person.
So as you begin to return to worship, let’s try to remember the purpose of our gathering. Whether in a sanctuary, in front of a computer screen with a YouTube service, or walking and listening to a podcast, the purpose is to worship God. To give thanks, express gratitude. To grow in discipleship. To get over one’s self and seek ways to serve one’s neighbor as an expression of giving glory to God.
In other words, it’s not about you. It’s about honoring your Creator, giving thanks to your Savior. And listening to the prompting and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
Stephen Blenkush is pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes.