Today my church hosted its first in-person worship gathering since March 2020.
Nearly every moment of the liturgy landed in the room like a proclamation of good news, from the opening greeting (“Our church is a place where you can come as you are…”) to the pastor’s three-finger sign of the cross offered as blessing at the end. During the open mic Prayers of the People, individuals reiterated life updates (deaths of loved ones, engagements, birth announcements) that had been communicated to the church remotely over the last year, and finally the church could respond bodily with applause or affectionate groans, a delayed mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice. A doctor took the mic: “Most of the last year has been horrible,” he began frankly, before offering thanks that none of his colleagues died, and for the vaccine.
In a short talk, our pastor described how the last service before the church closed its doors last March was a funeral, and the first service since then was a small wedding a few weeks ago, when I took the picture above. “Let the symbolism sink in,” she winked. Then she acknowledged that the 65-week gap of services was the longest vacancy in the building’s 135+ year history. At the outdoor coffee hour after the service, a woman glanced at the church’s brick walls. “Buildings want to be occupied,” she told me. “Buildings want to be filled with people.”
I was recruited this morning to manage our in-room video display during the service, and from the balcony sound booth I experienced the morning from multiple vantage points simultaneously: I was in my body, tearing up at hymn lyrics like, “Oh how good it is when the family of God dwells together in spirit, in faith, and unity.” I was a few feet behind my body, looking at myself without a mask in close proximity to dozens of friends and strangers, the largest gathering I’ve attended in over a year, trusting God and the vaccine and our church’s COVID procedures. I was five years in the future, describing to someone again the precise moment when I felt, even if only in retrospect, like my corner of the world had finally reopened. I was two years in the past, a little bored and impatient on an average Sunday thinking about the errands and obligations ahead of me that afternoon, taking fully for granted the miracle of so many souls casually gathered in one big space, confident in my unexamined belief that some traditions would never be interrupted.