Experimenting With Church

Going to Online Church with Far-Away Family

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Virtual Church
Red and white barn on green grass field under blue sky

These are such unusual times. For the most part, all is well with me. I have work, I have worked at home for a long time so it feels normal, my children have adjusted to being home and are learning and connecting with friends online, our financial situation is stable, my out of work chef daughter is getting financial assistance from the government, and our home is comfy. That said, my empathy muscle becomes exhausted every day about 5pm and I often weep for all people have lost. I’m fine but I worry about others. I am able to brush it off by dinner time to be ok as we gather and eat together. With everyone making delicious food, I often think, “Who knew a pandemic would be so delicious?”

I find my spiritual needs are different now than they usually are. I grew up Presbyterian and then became a Unitarian Universalist about 20 years ago. For the last few years I have been so busy with swim meets and choir concerts and travel that I haven’t been waking up to attend church on Sundays–I have preferred to sleep in. I have found myself wishing I had gone to church more as our church shut down for COVID 19 and now it is no longer an option to gather. About a week ago my daughter told me she had attended online “church” with my aunt and cousins at their church in a small town in Texas. This church has an aging and very small membership, but their minister, Sam Lanham, is a lovely preacher and he has been experimenting to find out how to bring his “church” to the people. He and their organist are doing it via Facebook Live.

When she told me about it, I immediately longed to attend. It is a church that my great-grand-parents, grand-parents and mother attended along with all of her relatives. This church has been a part of my whole life. I was christened there, and as a child I was in a wedding there, and I attended vacation bible school with my cousins there. We spent every Christmas Eve there having communion in the company of many relatives who had come “home” for Christmas. We had the funerals of family we lost there had my mom’s funeral there a year and a half ago, and Sam was the officiant. He was so kind and comforting at that time although he also held fast to his Presbyterian values as we designed her service together. In my head, this church has been the iconic small town church that has woven a thread through the lives of my family even though I have never been an official member.

I went to my first service last week. It was so great to see all my relatives from many locations joining the live feed. It was good for my soul.

First of all I deeply respect Sam. Everyone was shocked when he first got hired to be the minister in conservative West Texas. Then they met him and fell in love with him. He is full of joy and sharing his religion from a place of love that is incredibly infectious. I want to tell you more about him. He is a long-haired baby boomer who is the first to say he isn’t super tech savvy. That said, he is rockin’ virtual church! He is great on camera, sings all the hymns and is able to name all the people who enter the live event by name. He tries experiments and then adjusts the next week, asks for feedback, and then speaks to the suggestion. He makes everyone feel like they are a part of the church. Today he added joys and concerns and integrated them into his prayer on the go. It felt like love, and church, and intimacy. 

Intellectually, I am wowed by his experimental leadership. He is succeeding by all measures and also continuing to improve his offering (no pun intended). I suggested he figure out how to collect a virtual offering  because I would love to support his effort.

I am working to stretch my thinking to include ways of connecting that aren’t usually possible. Going to church in Texas (I live in Ontario, Canada) isn’t something usually available. I’m enjoying doing something new.

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