Digital Church

A recent Saturday Night Live sketch depicts Zoom church. The fictional Mount Methuselah Tower of Prayer Baptist Church is conducting its Mother’s Day service online. And things do not go smoothly. Loud and sporadic “amen” responses make it nearly impossible for the pastor to preach. Background noises take center stage, like the sounds of parents disciplining their children and SportsCenter playing loudly in someone’s home. The pastor pleads with those participating to each hit the “mute” button. When they finally comply, the pastor is thrown by the silence. He gives up on the sermon and turns to the choir director to lead a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The director proceeds, but no sound can be heard. He and the choir are still muted.

Jay and Melissa Cooper at Worship

Another popular video depicts Amazing Grace sung on Zoom in asynchronous cacophony. Participants are unable to hear each other. There are a host of distracting background visuals, like a parent interrupted by her child, a walking participant whose movement induces motion sickness, and a singer whose virtual backdrop is a garish disaster. The video ends with the warning, “Friends don’t let friends virtual choir.”

For anyone who has participated in Zoom church meetings or online worship, the videos evoke familiar struggles. And they fail to mention the most formidable challenge of all: a poor internet connection. The technical issues brought on by digital church are enough to make one laugh and cry. And even if you navigate the technical obstacles, you are still faced with limitations of online relationship. As embodied beings, there is something irreplaceable about being together physically. A digital link is just not the same – and will never be.

Vince and Dorothy Caimano at Morning Prayer

Still, I am grateful to God for digital church, warts, and all. When a deadly virus keeps us at home, it affords us human connection. We cannot greet each other with a handshake or hug. But we can at least see each other, type a greeting, and share our prayer requests. There are still no large in-person gatherings in our state. But with digital church, we can observe a common time to pray, sing, and hear the word of God read and proclaimed. Our patio may be closed for coffee hour. But we can delight in seeing one another in our respective homes for a virtual meeting after worship, or a Zoom gathering on housing justice. We may not be able to visit mission partners in person. But we can connect with them remotely, and join in their efforts with our giving, prayers, service, and advocacy.

Online church has even brought new benefits. Beloved former church members now living in different cities and countries now worship at Knox via live streaming.  A number of us have extended family members worshiping at Knox for the first time. We are able to hold daily morning and evening prayer times together. And those with mobility issues or confined to health care facilities can now link up with us for worship and fellowship.

Eliza, Nora, and Maya Kim at Worship

Do not get me wrong: I cannot wait until we can gather in person again. I yearn for the chance to be with others – especially my congregation — “in the flesh.”  Session has elected a task force to plan for re-entering our buildings at a future date, and Lord, do I eagerly anticipate such a day.  But our re-entry plans will prioritize love of neighbor, and so ensure we do not put the lives of others —- especially the most vulnerable — at undue risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.  This means the process will take time, research, planning, and prayer.  And it is likely to go slow.  In-person gatherings are still in our congregation’s future — not our present.  So for now, I say “thanks be to God” for digital church.   

Wishing you and your family grace and peace,

Pastor Matt