Gathering Together

Online connection can be an extraordinary gift. At the last Knox missions committee meeting, we met with Rev. Cheryl Barnes while she was in Malawi and we were in California. The Zoom conversation felt miraculous. Neither a ten-hour time difference nor the Pacific Ocean prevented us from getting to know one another that night.

Our committee had read about Cheryl’s service as a mission co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We had seen a video detailing her work with the Church of Central Africa Presbytery to improve children’s education in Malawi. And we had agreed that Cheryl would be a great person for our congregation to support now that our previous Presbyterian mission partner – Rev. Dr. Esther Wakeman – had retired from her service in Thailand. But it was wonderful to finally see and speak with Cheryl in real time. Each of the committee members introduced ourselves, and Chery greeted us by name. We asked her questions, and she responded. We also listened as she shared the story of God’s call on her life, leading her from parish ministry in Georgia to mission work in Africa. By the end of the evening, we not only had a new Presbyterian mission partner. We had a new friend. Still, I can only imagine how much stronger a connection we would have known had the gathering been in person. There is only so much of Cheryl that screen and sound could capture. Human presence – and the way we experience it sharing physical space with another – is a precious thing. So, I look forward already to the day we can meet the full and embodied person that is Cheryl Barnes.

While the pandemic has instilled in me the great value of remote connection, it has also convinced me of the irreplaceable power of gathering in-person. Last winter, even though it was freezing cold, and I could not recognize another soul through the masks, hats, and blankets, I loved worshiping outdoors on the Knox lawn. In days of home quarantine, it warmed the heart – and I drove home that night feeling more firmly linked to the body of Christ then I had in weeks. I was moved to tears when we finally gathered in the Knox sanctuary on May 9th, 2021 – and held our first service in that space since March of 2020. Even though safety protocols prevented indoor singing, the time still felt like a gift from the heavens. At Knox’s Barbecue and Bluegrass this month, I found not only my stomach’s hunger met by the great food Rich Yee had prepared. My soul’s hunger was met as well. Sitting around tables, listening to live music, playing games, and sharing conversation – all in a common space with some 200 others – it all seemed profoundly human. I felt part of one big extended family.

Scripture proclaims that human beings were created for in-person community (Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 133:1-3), and that the presence of our Savior can be known as God’s people gather (Matthew 18:20, Hebrews 10:24-25). I have experienced that personally as our congregation has slowly and thoughtfully moved to meeting in – person again.

Unfortunately, reconnecting in the flesh does take effort and risk. It can be awkward at first (or “aco-taco” as my daughter might call it). And the rewards often arrive not right away, but over weeks, months, or even years. Pandemic days have forced us all out of the habit of gathering in person, and it is never easy to get back into a habit – whether it be exercise, practicing an instrument, or worshiping in a sanctuary. For many in our community, distance, health concerns, and other reasons will make remote participation at Knox continue to be the best option.

So, we will strive to make the live stream of our worship service as robust as we can. Online options for committee and ministry participation will continue to be available. But should health, mobility, safety, and travel plans allow, I hope you and your family will again take up the time-tested practice of in-person church. I believe you too will find a hunger in your soul answered. Christian community – it may be flawed, imperfect, and full of the foibles and failings of our broken humanity. But it is also an incredible gift. Come and receive it.

Pastor Matt