“I really think you should put your sermons online.” He said it with the kind of casualness that alluded to its mutually beneficial nature. I was serving a small congregation in eastern Kentucky, and it’s true that this would be a way to share my messages with a wider audience. But I distinctly remember my retort as I turned to my beloved part-time parishioner nearly a decade ago and said, “Well, I’m not sure I want to give anyone another excuse not to come to church.”
But how the times have changed. From one single camera providentially installed in the BMPC Sanctuary in the spring of 2019, we now have multiple cameras, a refreshed audio system, and contracted livestreaming staff operating in our broadcast room up in the bell tower. We share our entire Sunday morning worship service, along with concerts, weddings and funerals across various social media platforms. One no longer needs to be in the church on Sunday to witness a service.
As the pastor overseeing our church’s communications initiatives, I certainly celebrate and am deeply proud of these advances. I give thanks for how technology has allowed people to discover our congregation across vast expanses and furthered our accessibility for the homebound. But I must confess that for me, watching worship online cannot compare to being in worship physically. I need to be there — with my body — in the space.
I need to behold the beauty of our Sanctuary, with our stunning reredos and our arched stone corridors. I need to feel the weight of the hymnal in my hands as I sing a little off key those ballads that have sustained generations of the faithful before me. I need to practice my calisthenics as I sit and stand for the liturgy. I need a concentrated hour to be present beyond the buzz of notifications on my cellphone. I need to hear of God’s love and claim on my life, not while looking at the preacher, but while gazing at that poor, beautiful image of Jesus, bound as he is for us, in the chancel window.
And I need to see people, real people, in the flesh. Not just see them, but be seen by them. I need to hear the sounds of kids fidgeting in the pews as they too learn the rhythms of worship. I need to witness familiar faces and encounter new ones. I need to hear my name spoken in greeting or in blessing. I need a pastor to break bread at Christ’s table, and invite me to pull a chunk of that same bread into my own hands. I need to be carried out by the organ’s lush and sweeping notes.
Try as I might, I cannot do many of those things through a screen. I need the church; the space, the sounds, the sacraments, and the people. Maybe you do too. If so, I hope to see you some Sunday soon.
But I also must now admit that if you aren’t quite ready to come back, we’re still only a click away.