Last night I got a message on Facebook from a friend from college. We haven't seen each other in 20 years, but thanks to social media, we have remained connected. I've enjoyed seeing pictures of her adorable son, born about 4 months ago after what I gather was quite a fertility journey. Thanks to Facebook, I also knew that her mom and dad had both died in the past year, before the birth of her son. Her message to me last night was a request for some words. I've got words! Her mother died a year ago today, and though her father was vehemently atheist, some digging found a connection for her mother to the Christian Church (DoC). She wondered if I might be able to send some words to help them memorialize her, one year after her death. I asked whether she wanted a homily or was looking for a more simple prayer, and after googling homily, she opted for both. Then she asked if I would be willing to Zoom-lead a service of sorts. All within 24 hours.
Thanks to the internet, I was able to learn more about her mom, to see her obituary and get a sense of the wonderful life she led. She and her husband built home for their family in Charlottesville, so I also felt a sense of connection due to the geographic proximity. My friend, on the other hand, lives in the Pacific Northwest. It would be impossible for me to lead something like this in person, but if we've learned nothing from the past 18 months, we've certainly learned that virtual ministry can be just as real and meaningful as in-person worship.
My friend and I straddle the generational gap between Gen-X and Millennials. Our generation is often missing from the church. For many, it's because we grew up when going to church was far less of a cultural norm. The church of our growing up years may have seemed pretty irrelevant to our lives then, and since many churches are still stuck there, now. But here we are, rocked by a global pandemic, and learning more about who we are as Christians and what the church can be, beyond the walls and membership.
As we've started to gather again in my congregation, in very small, masked and distanced numbers, I've heard from some people that "worship just isn't worship" outside of the church. They've remained engaged and faithful in our online offerings, but the experience of being gathered together, in body and spirit, is an important one in the life of faith. But it isn't the only one.
Church will never be the same. We plan to continue streaming online indefinitely, even though that adds to our budget and volunteer needs. There are some who may consider this to be their church home who live across the globe, or even across the street, who will continue to gather with us in virtual space only. Others might go back and forth, and others still will want to have a seat reserved in the Sanctuary as often as they can. And that's all for worship. The same can be said for our other ministries and missions. For years I've been saying that the American religious landscape is changing, that ministry needs to recognize that and adapt. The church has been adapting to change for nearly 2,000 years. We can handle it. But these past 18 months have fast-tracked many changes. It's hard to keep up, and to know what we should try to keep up with.
My friend probably won't become a member of our congregation - or any congregation, for that matter. But I hope and pray that she will experience God in this particular act of ministry. A ministry that would have been very unlikely not so very long ago.