Yesterday morning, as I was drinking my coffee and going over my sermon, which would be delivered to an online-only congregation, I read a headline and immediately had some thoughts. As of Monday morning, only two parishioners have sent me a link to yesterday’s New York Times editorial by Tish Harrison Warren, “Why Churches Should Drop Their Online Services“.
In case there is a paywall and you can’t access the editorial, in a nutshell Ms. Warren makes the case for dropping online services (which would include livestreamed and prerecorded) and going back to in-person services only. Her theological point is valid: Christians are an incarnational people, and worship is best in person, when it is visceral, physical, when we get to experience the best and worst of being with other people. We can hear their voices and the cry of babies; we can smell our favorite person’s perfume or shampoo; we hear the whine of hearing aids being adjusted, and truly share from a common loaf and common cup. Some of those thoughts are my extrapolation of hers.
But. But but but but but. I fear that Ms. Warren has not taken in the fullness of the Body of Christ into her argument.
Last night, my favorite group of pastors weighed in on the article in a text chain. I trust these people with my faith and with my life, with laughter and with preferences in bourbon. They agreed with me (which is always nice) and here is what we would say in response to Ms. Warren and maybe anyone who believes that online worship should go the way of tokens for communion, male-only clergy, and a publication of what each family pledges to the church.
First: not everyone can manage the physicality of our worship spaces. The congregation I serve has worked hard to make our sanctuary accessible, and it is, but it’s a long walk or wheelchair ride from the accessible entrance (which is right next to the garbage bin enclosure) to the sanctuary. And frankly, for anyone with back problems, our pews are uncomfortable if not excruciating. Some have a hard time wearing a mask for an hour or so. And some can see and hear better online.
Second: some people cannot come to worship. Some live far away. Some are sick. Some are unable to leave their home. Some live with chronic anxiety and public gatherings are terrifying. Some have a napping baby. There might be a winter storm with icy streets. Offering online worship provides a way to get that weekly dose of Jesus that might not otherwise be possible.
Third: computers are not going away. Online events are not going away. Using technology is not going away. We wonder how many of our committees will choose to continue to meet on Zoom, rather than drive to church on a dark and rainy night, going straight from work to a meeting without getting any dinner. Rather than shun the opportunity that online worship offers, we should embrace it.
There are probably more reasons but three seems a good number. Let me add that last night we made the decision to go back to in-person worship and I could not be happier about that.
And as for me and my house, we will continue to offer both in-person and online worship, to the glory of God.