Rev. Christy Thomas: Worship is best when people are together

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We all know what happened last weekend. Everything shut down. By Saturday morning, clergy were worriedly conversing with one another. Most of us have never canceled a church service before. We show up no matter what.

But this situation was different. Dangerous roads; freeways backed up for miles. Many, including me, iced in.

One brave soul checked the parking lot at the church and described it as a perfect ice-skating rink. Completely untouched by cars or tracks of any kind, it was a smooth sheet of slippery ice-glass.

I canceled worship and invited everyone to join me on our Facebook page for an experiment in electronic worship.

Some of the larger churches were video-streaming their services, but we don’t have those capabilities. Plus, I find just looking passively at the TV screen to be problematic when engaged in worship.

The act of worship means action and response in an intentional move into the presence of a holy God. It should not be passive, and TV is an inherently passive medium.

So after several technical glitches, and with super help from a Facebook guru church member, we figured out a way for us to talk to one another in several different conversation streams.

I encouraged people to look at a great video of a flashmob of the U.S. Air Force Band at the National Air and Space Museum. It began with a solo cello player sitting down in the center of the museum and playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and ending up with a full set of instrumentalists and vocalists performing “Joy to the Lord.”

Someone else linked to a beautiful video of a choir singing, “Mary, Did You Know?,” which our chorale had planned to sing that morning.

I posted on my blog and the church website a couple of documents about the message I had planned for the morning and encouraged people to take at look at them.

But after that, I simply let them take the discussion where they wanted to go.

We ended where we often do: the whole question of what is often called the “scandal of grace.” The scandal of grace revolves around the central question of forgiveness. How can God forgive? How can we forgive?

Many offenses seem simply unforgivable.

We ask, “if we forgive someone, doesn’t that mean we must be in close relationship with that person again?”

As one person posted, “forgiveness does not equal approval.” That was a great statement for us as we recognize that while God may forgive us, God does not necessarily approve of all that we are doing.

Think about it. We can offer forgiveness and set down our need to take vengeance without also offering approval. It is a great distinction, both on a personal level and on a spiritual level.

I would say this about our electronic worship: parts of it were simply wonderful. We interacted in deep and vulnerable ways. It also showed me that insightful, deep, kind and healthy discussions can take place on Facebook. I don’t often see those, and that was great joy.

After the morning was over, I felt drained from having to be constantly jumping from conversation to conversation without a break for more than three hours, and also a bit lonely.

Worship takes place best when we are corporately together, held in covenant love with others because we are indeed forgiven before the throne of grace.

I missed that. Electronic communication, for all its strengths, cannot replace that.

But I’m so glad we tried this. Because of the storm, everyone in the church was contacted over the weekend. Love flowed back and forth. We joked and laughed about our isolation. But I’m also glad that it’s over.

Let’s all get back together again this Sunday. We need to see one another. We were not meant to be alone.

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at christy@krumumc.org .


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